“This Is What Happens To Pretty Girls” review: these grey areas

If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say
If you can’t read from the same page

Pangdemonium’s This Is What Happens To Pretty Girls opens with a glimpse of a dance floor. With strobe lights and loud music, dance floors are typically ripe with grimy behaviour, bodies drenched with sweat and alcohol. It is a brief scene, but it is a space that most are familiar with, and a space that This Is What Happens… tries to replicate and expand into domestic and work scenes.

This Is What Happens… attempts to show that these spaces are at times a breeding ground for sexual harassment and abuse, especially as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is featured at least twice in the first half. The play turns the song on its head: blurred lines no longer alludes to a “she drives me crazy saying no when I know she wants it” stance, but more on the many confusing implications of what consent really means. Yes means yes, but what if you didn’t mean it? What if you change your mind? Consent is not simple because sex, dating and relationships are not simple. With a compelling narrative and a strong ensemble cast, This Is What Happens… successfully encapsulates these grey areas, painting a clear picture of a murky territory.

And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it

This Is What Happens… comprises of an ensemble cast of eight characters. Their stories are interwoven neatly in pairs: a English Literature professor and a budding student, a radio DJ and his wife, a bright engineer and her friendly supervisor,  an arrogant CEO and his business partner. Their tales highlight how cases of sexual harassment and assault oftentimes bleed into people’s lives – it begins with a casual encounter or some friendly flirting, but it morphs into something confusing, violating, terrorizing.

The play crescendos in its second half, as allegations of a past sexual abuse surface and repercussions continue to unfold. The rising anxiety is reflected with an increasing number of scene changes. The blackout transitions by James Tan and lighting designer Genevieve Peck are more tedious than frantic, akin to sharp interruptions that halt the play’s momentum. Yet, the strong acting performances help to ease with this, as seen with Serene Chen, who plays the DJ’s wife Becky. She is steadfast and alluring, a central emotional support figure amidst the chaos and turmoil.

I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it

Arguably, a #MeToo play written by a man could come off as presumptuous, but playwright Ken Kwek shows a careful deliberation in his character portrayals. Kwek’s characters behave in ways that do not necessarily evoke sympathy – they make bad, selfish decisions or are inherently vulgar. But perhaps garnering sympathy is not the point, This Is What Happens… strives to show the plights faced by both perpetrators and survivors. In cases of sexual harassment, who are the real “winners” and “losers”? What is considered as “justice”, as opposed to “revenge”? Certainly, This Is What Happens… does not have all the answers, but the play is strikingly representative of our time, grounded in social relevance and assured in man

This review is based on the performance on 21 May 2019. This Is What Happens To Pretty Girls runs from 10 to 26 May 2019 at Drama Centre Theatre.

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