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Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘Faghag’ by Pam Oei

W!ld Rice‘s Singapore Theatre Festival presented Pam Oei’s one-woman show Faghag at LaSalle College’s Flexible Space from 18 to 22 July 2018.

The term ‘faghag’ refers to women who have plenty of male gay friends. Written and performed by Oei, Faghag takes us on Oei’s journey of realising her tween celebrity crush was gay, to dating a man who also turned out to be gay, to the many gay people she met when she entered the theatre industry, to the various gay weddings she’s attended, and of course to Singapore’s Penal Code 377A which states that sex between two men is a crime.

Oei excels in comedic delivery and timing, and she brings these skills front and centre in this performance. Also, this actress can sing (as we’ve seen in her Dim Sum Dollies shows), and she stitches her social commentary and historical segments together with songs that evoke the pathos and joy underlining her anecdotes.

And just when you think this show is just over-the-top slapstick funny and wittily humourous, Oei throws in some very emotional hooks that make this show so completely encompassing, you can’t help but wonder why Oei hasn’t written for the stage before.

Directed by Ivan Heng, Oei wears mostly outrageous and creative costumes that make the stories so much more arresting, and taking full advantage of Julian Wong on the piano adds a lot of gaiety and liveliness to the show.

Heng also employs some clever directing techniques to bring out the hidden essence of certain scenes, as in the one where in 2001 the Singapore government allowed a gay theme party called “Nation” to be held on the island. In portraying the first year of this party, Oei starts off dancing with trepidation, surprised that this is allowed. Then in the second to fourth years, she dances a bit more freely each time, but with one eye on the lookout for the authorities. In the fifth year, just as she decides to let her hair down and shake her body with total abandon, the music abruptly stops – because in real life the government unexpectedly stopped the event in 2005 because of public sentiment. That scene said so much, despite Oei saying not much at all.

Altogether, Oei gave us a very real and raw look at a subject that is very dear and valuable to her. She included personal and intimate stories and anecdotes that ranged from funny to touching to impassioned, and in the process gave us one big performance that was both magnetic and soul-stirring.

About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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