Singapore Theatre Festival

Sexual reawakening at 63

Theatre veteran Lok Meng Chue (above) in My Mother Buys Condoms, by Helmi Yusof.
Theatre veteran Lok Meng Chue (above) in My Mother Buys Condoms, by Helmi Yusof.PHOTO: WILD RICE
Theatre veteran Lok Meng Chue in My Mother Buys Condoms, by Helmi Yusof (above).
Theatre veteran Lok Meng Chue in My Mother Buys Condoms, by Helmi Yusof (above).PHOTO: COURTESY OF HELMI YUSOF

Arts correspondent Helmi Yusof sat in on a playwriting course by theatre company TheatreWorks in 2014 to sniff out a possible story on aspiring playwrights.

But the 41-year-old became a playwright himself, turning out not just a story, but two scripts too.

One of them, My Mother Buys Condoms, about a 63-year-old tuition teacher's sexual reawakening, will premiere at the Singapore Theatre Festival.

Helmi and TheatreWorks managing director Tay Tong had floated it past Wild Rice last year.

"We thought maybe I could work with a young director and an inexpensive, unknown cast to keep costs low. But Ivan (Heng, Wild Rice's artistic director) read it and decided he was going to direct the play himself," recalls Helmi, who writes about the arts for The Business Times.

 

"And when Ivan is the director, everything changes. He works with the best actors and production team."

A star-studded cast and production crew took shape, among them theatre veteran Lok Meng Chue as tuition teacher Maggie, seasoned actor Remesh Panicker as her air-con repairman lover, Wong Chee Wai as set designer and Julian Wong as composer.

Helmi adds: "I had hoped that the play would run for three nights, but Ivan scheduled 14 shows - half of which are already sold out. Let's just say Ivan can move mountains."

Scandalised by Maggie's sex life, her neighbours stop sending their children to her tuition classes.

"I wanted to write a play about respecting the right of a person to make choices about love, sex and sexuality. Respecting a person's right to love is fundamental in any modern society," Helmi says.

"In no way does respecting those rights lead to the 'collapse of society', as moral vigilantes would have you believe. In no way does it erode the rights of anyone else."

Society celebrates and commodifies youth and sex, says Lok, 60. But this play defies that.

"It is a discussion about the needs, rights and choices of every human being," she says.

Helmi came up with the eye-catching title - at one point in the play, Maggie's son exclaims in horror: "My mother buys condoms!" - then wrote the play.

"We may not think of our parents as having physical and emotional needs that are as pressing as our own. But they do or might," he says.

"That's why I chose to use My Mother Buys Condoms instead of Maggie Buys Condoms, so the reader is directed to think about his or her own parent and the possibility of that person having strong physical urges too."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh


BOOK IT / MY MOTHER BUYS CONDOMS

WHERE: Creative Cube, 1 McNally Street, Lasalle College of the Arts

WHEN: July 14 to 24, 8pm (Thursday and Friday), 3 and 8pm (Saturday and Sunday)

ADMISSION: $40 (through Sistic, excludes booking fees)


FESTIVAL FESTIVITIES

The Singapore Theatre Festival continues offstage. It has cooked up a spread of what it calls "festivities", including concerts and lively public forums, that will take place mainly at Lasalle's Lowercase Cafe. Here are some picks:

DRAG ATTACK!

July 9, 10.30pm, free

Get raunchy with performers from Singapore's drag circuit, including Becca D'Bus and Mona Kee Kee.

SONGS OF PROTEST

July 16, 10.30pm, $10, Lasalle's Singapore Airlines Theatre

A sizzling line-up that includes singer Art Fazil, experimental rock band The Observatory, rapper Shigga Shay, actress Pam Oei's band Ugly In The Morning and veteran thespians Neo Swee Lin and Lim Kay Siu will get you raring for more with their personal anthems of "protest".

Tickets can be purchased from Sistic at a later date.

ART & LIFE SESSION #2: REGARDFUL OF RACE, LANGUAGE AND RELIGION

July 17, 5.30pm, free

Where do people draw the line between the right to freedom of expression and the spouting of hate speech? Expect a lively discussion as four panellists - playwright Alfian Sa'at, sociologist and non-constituency MP Daniel Goh, interfaith activist Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib and Maruah president Braema Mathi - weigh in on how hot-button topics such as race and religion are discussed in public.

This is the second of three public forums featuring prominent newsmakers speaking on issues such as race and history.

STAND UP FOR SINGAPORE

July 23, 10.30pm, free

A side-splitting night of non-stop jokes with Singapore stand-up comics such as Fakkah Fuzz and Sam See.

RANSACKING THE ARCHIVES: WRITING HISTORY INTO DRAMA

July 23 and 24, 10am, $30

Learn from Wild Rice resident playwright Alfian Sa'at, co-writer of the epic Hotel, tips and strategies on turning history, perceived by most as being stale and boring, into art.

Call Ross Toh on 6292-2695 or e-mail sales@wildrice.com.sg to reserve slots.

•For more details, go to singaporetheatrefestival.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Sexual reawakening at 63'. Print Edition | Subscribe