Lie With Me: notes from Kaite O'Reilly and Phillip Zarrilli

4 November 2019 | Journal

kaite + phillip

From 7 – 9 November, ITI will present the Asian premiere of Lie With Me, led by the award-winning team of playwright Kaite O'Reilly and director Phillip Zarrilli.

Here’s what they had to say about the process behind Lie With Me, which looks at contemporary urban life in Singapore through glimpses into the lives of eight young people trying to find their way in the world.


Kaite O'Reilly: I wanted to look at the challenges and complexities, along with the joys and delights, of being a young person in a big urban environment in the 21st century. It's a very different time we're living in now than in previous centuries. I think somebody said there's been more change in the last 20 years than in the previous 110 years. Things are happening very fast, and I was interested in looking at what it's like to be a young person trying to make your way in a city. How do you sell yourself? How do you get jobs? How do you find love? How do you make a life for yourself?

And at the same time I didn't want to shy away from some of the challenges. I think life is so different now that we have the internet, for example. Do we live in a global environment now? The way that information is shared, the way that people meet each other through apps on their phone, whether that's for a relationship or a hookup. Millennials are dealing with very different things from those of us who were around in the last century.

So I wanted to explore how complex the world is and life is, and how difficult it is to negotiate this post-truth society where we have things like alternative facts instead of empirical facts. Everything seems to be shapeshifting, not stable. How do we negotiate relationships that are truthful and meaningful and honest? Whether that's in work, in family, with our lovers, with our friends, with ourselves. How do we do that in an unstable post-truth environment?

I also think it's important to make something that is really about now, for our young and contemporary audiences. And that's why we've been spending so much time now to adapt it so that it is really Singapore-specific. 

Shakespeare said that theatre’s purpose is ‘to hold, as t'were, a mirror up to nature’. Well, that's what we're trying to do now — reflecting back contemporary Singaporean life for younger audiences.


ITI LieWithMe web2

Photo by Bernie Ng 


Phillip Zarrilli: The mix that we have in the cast is interesting, because there are four Singaporeans and four people from overseas. You have a lot of transient people in Singapore, and people who come here and work for years and years, are they Singaporean or not? So those issues come into the play.

I think the issues the play raises are very relevant. Are you connecting with people in relationships or are you trying to disconnect? How do you make those choices, and who do you make them with? I think the eight characters reflect a cross-section of young people’s experiences here in Singapore.

Kaite: From our research, we know, for example, about anxiety, the sense of loneliness, the climate crisis, the fact that people are not necessarily finding a life partner — such huge changes are happening. 

In the theatre, I don’t think we have to be doom and gloom, but I think we have to be aware of what is going on, and theatre is a really great place to start exploring why might this be the case. Why are we increasingly lonely and alone, even though we are in the middle of a busy city? That’s the kind of thing I wanted to look at, because other generations want to understand what younger generations might be facing.


Lie With Me rehearsal


Phillip: All the issues are in the play, but it isn’t gloomy.

Kaite: No, there’s joy and pleasure in there as well.

Phillip: There are all these issues swirling around. We have eight people in the company and they all have two scenes each, with equal stage time, so you see two facets of the same person in two different situations. Each of the eight scenes has a two-person encounter. When you’re alone with another person, what happens? What’s the encounter like when there are so many things going on around you? It’s a very clever way of constructing the play, which takes place over eight months. You have this unfolding of lives.

Kaite: It’s like when you’re on a train and you can almost look into people’s houses as the train goes by, and you just get glimpses of what those lives are. But they’re significant moments that we glimpse, and we catch these characters in very contrasting contexts because they have two scenes each. The power dynamic, the relationship, the situation — the way they are presenting themselves is very different, so we get a sense of the fullness of a character.

I went for this dramaturgy in this way because I don’t like performances that settle into who’s the leading man or the leading lady, and then everybody else has supporting roles. This is an ensemble piece where everybody is equally important, everybody has equal stage time.


Lie with Me 

Presented by Intercultural Theatre Institute

In Collaboration with Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay

7 – 9 November 2019

Esplanade Theatre Studio


Kaite's photo by Wesley Loh (Memphis West Pictures)