Theatre review: (un)becoming's authentic mother-daughter tales

Isabella Chiam (left) and Arielle Jasmine Van Zuijlen in (un)becoming at Festival of Women N.O.W.
Isabella Chiam (left) and Arielle Jasmine Van Zuijlen in (un)becoming at Festival of Women N.O.W.PHOTO: T:>WORKS

(un)becoming

T:>Works
Festival of Women N.O.W.
Online, Wednesday (July 14)

"You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs," as the old adage goes.

There are broken eggs galore in this patchy but ultimately poignant play about mothers and daughters, created for Zoom by Sim Yan Ying and Nabilah Said.

Elaine (Isabella Chiam), a millennial single mother, fights on a daily basis with her prickly Generation Z daughter Rina (Arielle Jasmine Van Zuijlen), who wants to move out of their Housing Board flat.

Their neighbour Dewi (Suhaili Safari) is trying to launch her career as a doula, even as she struggles privately with the death of her mother two years ago.

Flitting between these storylines is Eggkeykey (Chanel Ariel Chan), a bubbly, child-like being who has met mother goddesses, spirits and animals through the ages, yet is unable to find her own mother.

Sim and Nabilah lean hard into the digital medium, mixing live and filmed performances with a heavy use of screen-sharing as a narrative tool. Audiences can spy on characters composing e-mails and surfing YouTube or TikTok.

A scene where Dewi tries to juggle three clients' relentless demands over WhatsApp will feel all too relatable to freelancers operating from home.

The kitschy visuals and rough quality of some of the audio, however, do little to dispel Zoom fatigue.


Chanel Ariel Chan (left) and Suhaili Safari in (un)becoming at Festival of Women N.O.W. PHOTO: T:>WORKS

Where the work shines is in how it teases out the manifold complexities of mothers and daughters - "mother wounds", as the script puts it.

"She keeps giving and giving and expecting me to receive," complains Rina at one point.

The work's creators have been gathering real-life mother-daughter stories on Instagram account @unbecomingstories, which lends a grounding element to the script's fantastical swirlings.

Dewi, Elaine and even self-absorbed, sullen Rina are fully realised as characters, sometimes to a painful extent.

They possess a quality of authenticity that pierces through the fog of exhaustion one has come to associate with digital theatre.


Book it/(un)becoming

Where: Online
When: Thursday (July 15), 7.30pm; Friday and Saturday, 7.30 and 10.30pm
Admission: By donation ($25 to $50) via Sistic 
Info: Rated NC16. For more information, go to Not Ordinary Work's website