Review: Muswell Hill by Pangdemonium |

Muswell Hill

by Megha Bhattacharya

Singapore’s Pangdemonium is no stranger to thought-provoking plays. This time, Timothy Koh brings to life Torben Betts’ dark comedy Muswell Hill as his fitting directorial debut. The relatable nature of Muswell Hill’s urban upper-middle class characters allowed Timothy to retain the original script. This is based in a suburban neighbourhood of North London with the backdrop of the Haiti earthquake of January 2010 – with accents, sets, et al. 

The play by play

The entire play rolls out in the not-so-modest kitchen of leads Mat (Jason Godfrey) and Jess (Nikki Muller). It sets the tone of the frivolous vanity of the characters and works as an ironic backdrop for the couple discussing the recent earthquake catastrophe of one of the poorest nations of the world.

While their relationship seems to crumble in a typical British brush-it-under-the-carpet style, they welcome their guests for a posh soiree, with several exquisite courses and bottles of wine. Their guest list begins with Jess’ old time friend Karen, portrayed annoyingly well by Samantha Hum. In a caricature-ish way, she’s still grappling with her husband’s death. She also see-saws between her lifestyle choices as a crutch for her indecisive lovelessness.

We’re then introduced to Mat’s college friend Simon, played convincingly by Gavin Yap. He’s an eccentric, well-travelled rebel with too many causes, opinions, and angry rants for the world. The hosts did fancy playing cupid for our first two guests… until Simon finds a picture of Jess’ much younger sister Annie (Tia Andrea Guttensohn).

Painting a picture of a Freudian Oedipus complex – or “daddy issues” – Annie’s fallen for the much older thespian Tony (Matt Grey). He’s still living out his mid-life crisis way into his 60s while enjoying his carefree dalliance with Annie.

Breaking it down

Betts masterfully employs the usage of Conflict as a device to set the central theme of the play. At first, “Relational conflict” bubbles up amongst the characters who while seeking joy are so humanly selfish that it makes the audience squirm in their seats. The “Societal conflict” is then brought out in several layers. Using heated, alcohol-infused disagreements of political stances and subtle commentary on the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma, it engages the audience to think, question, and take sides unequivocally.

Then walks in the “Inner conflict” where we see frustrated conversations finally giving way to moments of unwanted clarity. It also generates that conflict in minds of the audience; they start to see themselves in the characters focused on first world problems. They’re nonchalantly playing the role of a “good human” by “throwing money” at the crisis. But, it’s a dark comedy so the “Situational conflict” is brought out by the comedic interactions of the characters.

Laugh because of its honesty

Timothy Koh’s Muswell Hill is a very timely play in the face of the crises we’re seeing around the world. He, along with his brilliant cast and crew, have put together a wonderful rendering of the play that engulfs you as though you’re another guest.

In Timothy’s words, he hopes that the “audiences can sit in the discomfort of seeing themselves on stage”. Special mention to Eucien Chia who designed this aspirational kitchen set. Koh points out “Stephen Sondheim once said that the theatre is often historically an escape for the upper-middle class”. So if you’re looking for an escape that will make you laugh because of its honesty, watch Muswell Hill

Muswell Hill is playing until July 10, at National Library’s Drama Centre.