At the end of opening night, the renowned Singaporean actor Adrian Pang addressed the audience after his performance, thanking them for coming to a play that made him feel, in the rehearsals, “happy, crappy and everything in between.” How appropriate.
There could not be a more accurate statement for Pangdemonium’s production of the famous musical Next to Normal. Promoting awareness of mental health, Next to Normal captures the journey a bipolar mother, Diane (Sally Ann Triplett: The Fishing Trip, Viva Forever), battling though her emotional highs and lows—with her entire family by her side. As Diane is haunted by the death of her one-year-old child, her husband Dan (Adrian Pang-The Dresser, Much Ado About Nothing, The Kitchen Musical, Six Weeks) frantically looks for the perfect ‘cure’. As the audience we watch Diane plunge into a world of pills, psychotherapy and ECT (Electro-convulsive therapy). Despite the melancholy plot, the songs ignite the audience with electric guitars, jazz piano, catchy melodies, talented solos and hilarious lyrics (music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey). Songs such as “Who’s crazy/My psycho pharmacologist and I”, “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” and “Maybe (Next to Normal)” will leave you singing in your sleep.
The setting in the Drama Centre Theatre (National Library Singapore) is an innovation in its own right—consisting of two levels, the stage is divided into several rooms of Diane’s household. Hovering over the rooms is a bright neon wire, outlining two symmetrical faces with a shared, hollow brain in the middle. The musical’s flashing lights and layout do not overwhelm the audience, but rather set the scene for an agitated and worried household.
With only six characters, the story allows for an intimate knowledge of each individual, and evokes compassion for those with bipolar or similar mental illness. It allows us to realise that there is no ‘quick fix’ for someone who suffers under such conditions, only endurance, love and support. “The truth is that no one really knows”- was Dan’s sober answer to the end of Diana’s last attempt at treatment. After seeing the ‘everyday’ dynamics of this family, we ourselves question what ‘normal’ really is—and we learn to look at family issues of our own in a slightly more positive and humorous light. This non-profit production is tied with the Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) and The Singapore Association for Mental Health; Next to Normal is impacting the community as well as the immediate audience. As Adrian Pang’s article closes out- “Here’s to being anything but ‘normal’- whatever that means.”