Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) Hand to God ran at the KC Arts Centre, SRT’s home, from 19 April to 6 May 2017.
Robert Askins’ comedy is about Margery (Janice Koh) who has recently lost her husband and teaches at a church’s Sunday School. Her son Jason (Thomas Pang) is in that Sunday class, and together with his classmates Jessica (Ann Lek) and Timothy (Gavin Yap) is putting up a puppet performance for the community. Meanwhile the church’s pastor Greg (Daniel Jenkins) has romantic feelings towards Margery, who is disinterested in his advances. Instead, Margery finds herself drawn to her son’s classmate, the foul-mouthed and troubled teenager Timothy. When Jason’s puppet Tyrone seems to come alive with a whole personality of its own, Margery and Pastor Greg struggle to make sense of how to contain the situation – without harming Jason further.
The play premiered Off-Broadway in 2011, made its way to Broadway in 2015, and was nominated for 5 Tony awards that year, so it’s no surprise that the writing is tight, absolutely hilarious, and intelligently witty. This version, directed by Guy Unsworth, stands out because of the comedic timing and naturalistic performances of most of the cast. Koh plays Margery with masterful range as she goes from a delicate soul, to a sexually liberated woman, and finally to an understanding, emotional mother. Koh does however struggle with the American accent, as she has often done in the past.
Pang has a more consistent American accent, and convincingly embodies both the shy, grieving Jason and the potty-mouthed, sexually driven Tyrone in equal measure – no mean feat for any actor. In one scene, Jason and Tyrone have a conversation with each other in quick succession and Pang delivers this smoothly, without missing a beat.
My only other small gripe is that Ann Lek does overact in parts, employing very obvious expressions that scream that she’s ‘acting’. A more genuine and subtle performance would have been far better for the role, especially when she’s surrounded by actors who are unaffected and seem organic in their performances.
The set is very innovative – for example, a bed pops out of a wall, and a noticeboard in the church’s classroom has seat belts so that that area turns into the inside of a car in one scene.
In a nutshell, the dialogue is thrilling, and together with the brilliant acting, SRT’s Hand to God is certainly not a production to be missed or you’ll be kicking yourself – and that is God’s honest truth!