Mother I (2) by Ver Theatre taps on heartbreak of being a parent

(From left) Grace Kalaiselvi, Catherine Ho and Hilmi Shukor star in Mother I (2), which was devised from interviews with 20 mothers.
(From left) Grace Kalaiselvi, Catherine Ho and Hilmi Shukor star in Mother I (2), which was devised from interviews with 20 mothers.PHOTO: DARREN TAN

From a woman who lost her child to another whose son went to prison, a new play, Mother I (2), taps on the heartbreak and turbulence of being a parent.

Mother I (2) runs from Aug 10 to 13 at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box.

The play, produced by new group Ver Theatre, is the brainchild of its founder, actress-writer Grace Kalaiselvi. The multilingual script was devised from interviews conducted with 20 mothers, including her own.

Her 62-year-old mother worked as a cleaner to support three children and had worried about her youngest's acting ambitions for the longest time.

Kalaiselvi, 40, first interviewed her mum for last year's Mother I: Amma Naan: Ibu Aku. This was nominated for Best Sound Design in this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.

The award was won by Philip Tan for Cake Theatrical Productions' Electra, but Kalaiselvi won another accolade - her mother's approval. "She said it was the best show I've done."

  • BOOK IT / MOTHER I (2)

  • WHERE: Black Box, Goodman Arts Centre, 90 Goodman Road

    WHEN: Aug 10 and 11, 8pm; Aug 12, 3 and 8pm; Aug 13, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $30 from motheri2.peatix.com

Mother I: Amma Naan: Ibu Aku was about births and babies. Mother I (2) is about the joys and disappointments of being a caregiver, from the moment a child is born until she has her own progeny. It was devised with actress Catherine Ho and actor Hilmi Shukor.

"A 'mother' need not be a woman," says Kalaiselvi. "It's anyone in the position of caregiver, someone who steps in."

Included is the story of a girl who has had to mother her mother since the age of eight, after her parent suffered a stroke.

Kalaiselvi gave her actors a list of suggestions and asked them to find people to interview. Transcripts were presented to her in English for editing and the edited script translated by the actors back into the original languages and dialects - Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, Tamil and so on.

Ho, 36, interviewed an aunt whose daughter has special needs. She also spoke to her paternal grandmother before the 79-year- old died of kidney failure in April.

Ho says working on her grandmother's story is difficult, given how recent the loss is. It helps to listen to the recordings she made of the interview. "I'm glad I did it. She was somebody very dear to me."

Her grandmother was a farm worker and later a housewife. Ho was struck by her grandmother's attitude to life and family. To her, a mother was meant to sacrifice everything for her children, to clear the debts of the previous life.

"The biggest achievement in her life was that she had five generations in her family, with her great-grandson," says Ho. "How she valued her life was through her children's achievements. This is so different from attitudes today."

Ho's mother is a tutor.

Kalaiselvi's mother is now reconciled to her daughter's theatrical career, but disappointed that she is still single.

"She worked three jobs to raise her children and won't be satisfied until all are married," says Kalaiselvi with a laugh.

"One of the tracks in this play is fulfilment and disappointment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2017, with the headline 'Capturing the joys, heartbreak of being a mother'. Print Edition | Subscribe