Swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, sigh, put phone down. Pause for five minutes. Pick up phone and the swiping starts again. Since the invention of dating apps, it has never been easier to meet someone new and completely out of your immediate circles. You can find yourself going out on five dates a week, if you really wanted to. However, does connectivity relate to less loneliness?Award-winning playwright Katie O’Reilly‘s Lie With Me brings this question to the table.

It is a relatively recent phenomenon, the ‘swipe right’ culture, and it has shifted the ways in which we try to form genuine connections in a world that is increasingly consumerist and driven by instant gratification. Not only have our choice of partners have shifted, what we actively seek have changed as well—One Night Stand, Friends With Benefits, and other variations that have come up along the way. So how do we define connection and what sort of future are we looking at?

Directed by the internationally renowned Phillip Zarrilli, Intercultural Theatre Institute‘s graduating cohort showcases a series of snapshots that look at urban Singapore life. The audience members glimpse into the moments of eight characters, and journey through a range of emotions that usually leaves them with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.

The play starts with frantic music with an overwhelming pulsing beat, as the text on the background so succinctly describes. The ensemble of actors start moving in staccato, jerking their stiff bodies towards the centre of the performance space. The more frantic the music becomes, the more their bodies embody it by moving in spasms and broken up movements. Moving in the dim lights, it reminded me of a club night where numbers do not mean anything and the bodies around you can be strange, detached and alone.

Is this a foreshadowing of some sort? Before I can decide, the first scene begins on a pavement as the lights and music fade away. The scenes follow one after another, with consistent transitions of movement and gesture in between. After a while, it all seem so much like clockwork, repetition, with only the music influencing the pace and atmosphere of the movement. Is this another commentary on the routine we subject ourselves to, and the complacency in which we settle through our apps and transient relationships? I have no clue, and honestly the transitions do not do much for me although I can identify certain references of everyday gesture.

Jin Chen, who plays an independent artist and filmmaker, is strong in her portrayal although certain edges could be softened to invite the audience in. Her voice crisp and commanding, her stage presence draws you to her like a moth to a flame. I particularly enjoy the scene she shares with fellow actor Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-An — her eyes boring into his being, stalking the stage with lethal grace and her endless self-assuredness on full display for all to see. I believe her and all that she embodies, and is left curious as to who exactly is this woman and how did she become this way?

Other notable performances include Earnest Hope Tinambacan and Nour El Houda Essafi a.k.a. Yiseong. Their shifts from power and dominance to softness a pleasure to watch.

Lie With Me is clever in its dialogue, and the layers of meaning it tries to unravel as the conversations wears on. Poetic and poignant, the language sits beautifully as subtitles, my eyes savouring every word and phrasing. However, some words feel slightly clumsy voiced out and if these scenes are said to take place in Singapore, then I question its language use. Technicalities aside, the text offers questions with no answers for the search is left to the audience members’ choice: to take home and mull over.

Then as it all begins, the actors come back for a final moment of floating in the air and struggling to reach for something. A connection, maybe, or to find their way back to the core of who they individually are. Lived moments and a whole journey later, still alone and strangers to one another.

Photography credits: Bernie Ng

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