Learning to love mother better

Claire Wong (left, with Noorlinah Mohamed).
Claire Wong (left, with Noorlinah Mohamed).PHOTO: CHECKPOINT THEATRE

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Recalling Mother has been an intimate, decade-long mining expedition for theatremakers Noorlinah Mohamed and Claire Wong.

The show has had them picking at their relationships with their mothers and peeling back the layers that make up the women who have shaped their lives.

It has been staged three times before - 2006, 2009 and last year - but for Noorlinah and Wong, their mothers are deep wells that have yet to run dry.

Wong, 51, says: "For me, each time we have worked on this play, the mother I have in my head has become more complex, more contradictory, more fascinating. And it's really because I have changed and because I'm interested in knowing her as a person in her own right.

"She's not just the person playing the role of my mum and fulfilling her job scope as a parent. I think I've learnt how to love my mum better. I've learnt to admire her more. I've learnt to listen to her better. I've learnt to talk to her better."

Wong, the youngest of five children, was born in Malaysia, where her 82-year-old mother, Madam Wong Yoot Ho, still lives.

  • BOOK IT / RECALLING MOTHER

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    WHEN: March 24 to 26, 8pm; March 26 and 27, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $35 (excluding fees, go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

Noorlinah, 47, lives with her mother, Madam Bee Bee Mohamed Salam. Now 91, Madam Bee Bee was in her 40s when she adopted Noorlinah, who is her only child.

The mother I have in my head has become more complex, more contradictory, more fascinating.

And it's really because I have changed and because I'm interested in knowing her as a person in her own right.

CLAIRE WONG (with Noorlinah Mohamed) on how she felt each time she had worked on the play

For the 2009 staging, both mothers were "healthy, mobile and active", says Noorlinah. But when they took the show to New York last year, much had changed.

"Our mothers had suffered several falls, broken several bones and are in a period of their lives where they are more debilitated," says Noorlinah, who did her PhD in arts education at the University of Warwick.

"My mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2010 in the midst of my PhD journey. I flew back and assumed the caregiver role."

The show reflected the stress of that period and explored the change in dynamics that time brings to the mother-daughter relationship, opening up a new list of questions. "What happens when the status changes? What happens when your mother still considers you her child, but now you have to assume the role of adult, at times bordering on mothering your mother?" asks Noorlinah.

The show tenderly explores the duo's relationships with their mothers, but neither Madam Wong nor Madam Bee Bee have seen it.

Noorlinah says her mother has never caught her on stage. "I wish she could be there to watch this piece. But she is not able to. When I told her about it in 2009, she just smiled but was not keen to attend.

"I don't know if she remembers that I'm doing another version of Recalling Mother. I told her. But with dementia, you've got to tell her several times."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Learning to love mother better'. Print Edition | Subscribe