Theatre review: The Fourth Trimester is a must-watch play about parenthood

Joshua Lim (left) and Isabella Chiam play struggling first-time parents in The Fourth Trimester by Checkpoint Theatre. PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

The Fourth Trimester

Checkpoint Theatre
Drama Centre Theatre, Aug 4

In an age of Instagram parenting and persistent stigma against breastfeeding in public, there is something cathartic about watching a woman onstage have a meltdown while expressing milk, sobbing helplessly over the wheeze of the breast pump.

Faith Ng's new play The Fourth Trimester - named for the three months after a baby's birth - follows three couples and one single woman in their turbulent 30s.

Directed with tender nuance by Claire Wong and dramaturged by Huzir Sulaiman, it is an often funny and always painfully frank portrait of parenthood and marriage.

Sam (Isabella Chiam) and Aaron (Joshua Lim) are struggling to survive new parenthood. Their baby cries incessantly, will not latch and is "failing to thrive", according to a paediatrician.

They keep comparing themselves to their friends Lisa (Julie Wee) and Daniel (Hang Qian Chou) who, on the surface, appear to be couple goals. But Lisa, a full-time mother of two, is on the verge of burnout, which her loving but thoughtless husband seems oblivious to.

Lisa's sister Ann (Oon Shu An), who is also Sam's best friend, has chosen to be child-free - which cost her her relationship with ex-boyfriend Johan (Al-Matin Yatim).

Coincidentally, Johan and his wife Sofia (Rusydina Afiqah) have moved in next door to Sam and Aaron and are trying desperately for a baby.

Ng made her name with the acclaimed 2015 play Normal, about two students in the Normal (Academic) stream, and in a way The Fourth Trimester continues the conversation on what is normal, just at a later stage of life.

The women in the play constantly come up against what society deems "normal" for them - that motherhood is their inevitable life purpose, that they should bear the burden of domestic labour, and that anyone less than perfect is a "s*** mother", as Sam puts it.

Ng's script is so full of minutely observed detail that it feels lived-in, like Petrina Dawn Tan's cluttered set for Sam and Aaron's three-room Housing Board flat, with clothes and baby things strewn over every available surface.

In contrast, Johan and Sofia's flat is white and bare, like the state of limbo their fertility issues have placed them in.

The cast is strong across the board, held together by Chiam's relatable performance as a woman who intellectually knows her hormones are driving her to behave irrationally but cannot stop herself.

Standouts include Hang, who imbues an infuriating character with surprising emotional depth; and Oon as Ann, whose breezy independence masks a private grief and whose bond with Sam is one of the loveliest relationships in the play.

The Fourth Trimester clocks in at three hours, but is not a chore to follow. There is a dramatic twist before the intermission that is derailed in the second act by an uncharacteristically clunky monologue. But otherwise, the script is so light on its feet you hardly feel the passage of time.

Even with such a long running time, there is more this reviewer would have liked to see - such as a more in-depth look at Sofia, who feels underdeveloped compared to the other characters.

The Fourth Trimester is a must-watch for all sorts of people. Men should see it, if only to realise the invisible labour their wives and mothers have borne this whole time. Mothers will see their struggles reflected on the stage; women who have yet to have children will have a lot to mull over.

Asked by her sister if she is happy, Lisa says it is not about that. Whether she pursues her dreams or sacrifices them to put her kids first, she will have to give something up. "It's not whether I'm happy, it's which regret I choose to live with."

Such questions may never be conclusively answered, but The Fourth Trimester is a reminder that one is not alone in asking them.

Book it/The Fourth Trimester

Where: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street
When: Till Aug 14, Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm; Saturdays, 3 and 8pm; Sundays, 3pm
Admission: $40 to $80 from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)
Info: Checkpoint Theatre's website

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