Gritty musical blows the mind

Gritty musical blows the mind
Actor Adrian Pang puts on a moving performance as the long-suffering husband to Sally Ann Triplett's (both left) character, who has bipolar disorder.

SINGAPORE - Think bipolar disorder and all too often, the pop culture version of the mental illness comes to mind.

Whether it is actress Claire Danes having a meltdown as her CIA character Carrie on the hit TV series Homeland, or the bastardised retellings of poet Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven, these encounters with mental illness are marked with morbid fascination and tossed aside without further - and much-needed - scrutiny.

So it comes as a breath of fresh air that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next To Normal devotes as much time as it does to humanising the sufferer to throwing the spotlight on those around her who are also coping with her illness in one way or another.

On the surface, the Goodman family is no different from any other in suburbia.

You have the son sneaking home in the wee hours and the angsty teenage daughter panicking about school the next day. Throw in a stoic father and harried mother, and you just about have a pretty picture of family life - but wait, why is Mrs Goodman slapping peanut butter onto a loaf of sliced bread that she has just emptied out on the floor?

From Pangdemonium Productions comes a heart-wrenching, gut-twisting gem of a musical that does not whitewash the painful cracks in a life burdened with a severe mental illness.

This has been the year of the taut family drama for Pangdemonium, who scored critical acclaim for its previous outing, Rabbit Hole, about a set of parents grieving the loss of their young son.

Next To Normal is an ambitious musical that knows it cannot cover all the bases of mental illness in under three hours. But it does try, even if some aspects loom larger than life or are packaged for the audience a little too neatly.

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