If flowers could speak...

Floral objects and a taped narrative in this theatrical installation guide ticket-holders through a reflection on the after-effects of domestic violence.
Floral objects and a taped narrative in this theatrical installation guide ticket-holders through a reflection on the after-effects of domestic violence.PHOTO: DRAMA BOX

REVIEW / THEATRE

FLOWERS

Drama Box

74 Jalan Kelabu Asap/Wednesday

Flowers symbolise femininity and softness but in this theatrical installation by Drama Box, flowers often take on more horrific meaning.

In this work created in a house in Chip Bee Gardens, chrysanthemums represent the heartbreaking persistence of a woman who will not give up on a violent, abusive husband. Origami flowers hidden in a box represent a son whose artistic talents and desire for love are mocked as being too feminine.

Flowers are ubiquitous in the furniture and trappings of the home that ticket-holders explore, which is tenanted solely by an unnamed male character (played on Wednesday by veteran actor Yong Ser Pin, who is sometimes credited as Yang Shibin).

Some of the floral objects are obvious, and the existence of others is revealed in a taped narrative that listeners can stop and start at will. Initial hesitation to touch a stranger's belongings quickly turns into drawers being turned inside out and folders emptied for clues. Yet, missing a few will not detract from the heart of the work.

  • BOOK IT / FLOWERS

  • WHERE: 74 Jalan Kelabu Asap

    WHEN: Until Sunday, various times from 10am to 8.30pm; 90 minutes a show (limited to 10 people at a time)

    ADMISSION: $30 from flowers.eventbee.com

The taped narrative clearly presents how misogyny is normalised and perpetuated in families and societies. The point is emphasised by the obvious differences between the furniture and toys in the rooms of the fictional and absent son and daughter of the house.

Outside the installation, an exhibition on the history of women's rights movements in Singapore proves even more gut-wrenching.

One placard reveals that, in 1979, women were restricted to only a third of the medical student body at the National University of Singapore "since women are assumed to leave the medical profession once they get married and have children".

Tellingly, this state-imposed quota was established during the 14-year period when Parliament did not have a single female Member of Parliament, as revealed by another placard.

Flowers is created by Drama Box's resident artist Han Xuemei, with playwright Jean Tay, sound artist Darren Ng and lighting designer Lim Woan Wen.

The first three collaborated last year on an introspective theatrical experience, Missing: The City Of Lost Things. A viewer's takeaway from Missing depended on her personal journey and choices.

Flowers is a more guided experience, outlining the gender inequality created by custom, law and tradition, and making viewers confront their own complicity in perpetuating it - or at least, not challenging it.

The quiet presentation of gender dynamics and power structures makes Flowers a mesmerising and challenging work, one that many viewers will find difficult to spend time with but will keep revisiting in afterthoughts. (This reviewer bowed out 10 minutes before the 70 minutes allotted to explore the house).

The work's great strength and flaw is that it mirrors existing social conditions, in which men's needs are continuously and insidiously prioritised over the rights of women.

"Not all the memories are painful", are the words of the woman who endured a marriage marked by violence.

Her chrysanthemums record a terrible resilience, one that should not be emulated but is so often celebrated. The lonely existence of her husband calls for pity as well.

Drama Box presents the problem in its complexity but, like all of us, seems stymied for a solution.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2019, with the headline 'If flowers could speak...'. Print Edition | Subscribe