A mother's journey

Rizman Putra and Patricia Toh in Under My Skin.
Rizman Putra and Patricia Toh in Under My Skin.PHOTO: ATTLIO RAPISARDA

REVIEW / THEATRE

UNDER MY SKIN

Alessandra Fel/ M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Esplanade Theatre Studio/ Thursday

Under My Skin makes its strongest points in silence. Spoken words distract from the performers' intensely physical exploration of post-natal depression.

Creator and director Alessandra Fel, an Italian residing here, has a wonderful grasp of movement theatre and how the body can be used to express meaning without sound.

So her addition of spoken text and multimedia is difficult to understand. Clunky lines destroy the mood created by three excellent performers using their bodies in riveting recollections of the relationship between a mother and son.

Catherine Sng and Patricia Toh play the mother, Emily, at different stages in her life. Rizman Putra plays the son, Ray, in a brilliant performance that convinces the audience he is at times a helpless embryo or a plump, unsteady toddler learning to walk. Even his face appears to be rounded with child-like fat at the start. Features emerge only when he grows into an energetic primary school kid and finally a resentful young man.

Clad in skin-coloured briefs, he starts in an initial ab-tightening foetal posture, sucking his thumb as Sng and Toh revolve in chairs and caress their bellies.

The remembered joy on Sng's face and explosive glee on Toh's are all that is needed to convey a hopeful mother's emotion.

When Toh speaks to express the same, it destroys the mood created by motion and music (by sound designer Shawn Par and composer Samantha Lim).

The set by Vincent Lim is designed to make room for dance and also multimedia projections by Brandon Tay. Mostly distracting, the multimedia does work well three times. The first is when Emily's water bursts. A gush of liquid light spills onto the floor even as Rizman uncoils from foetal position to that of a helpless newborn.

Later, Emily's inexplicable anger - fuelled by post-natal depression - emerges painfully from the skin of a young Ray. Black lines coil into a dense jungle of conflicting emotions nicely expressed in a later, soundless interplay. Toh as Emily tries to help her son wear his backpack and he stills her arm, caught in the thicket of anger.

Finally, Sng and Toh move together in a reversal of the opening scene, where Emily's memories of depression and tiredness radiated from her skin like strands unthreaded from their matching green dresses. In this scene, Sng was wrapped in black sorrow by Toh. In the end, she draws the negativity away from Toh and darkness gives way to sparks of light. Best of all, no words mar the catharsis. Silent tears and smiles are enough to cut the viewer to the bone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'A mother's journey'. Print Edition | Subscribe