Singapore Theatre Festival showcases three new plays

Wild Rice's Singapore Theatre Festival will present three new plays by Singapore writers and bring back five well-received productions, including Hotel

Actress Lok Meng Chue plays a 63-year-old tuition teacher going through a sexual reawakening in Helmi Yusof's new play, My Mother Buys Condoms, part of the Singapore Theatre Festival.
Actress Lok Meng Chue plays a 63-year-old tuition teacher going through a sexual reawakening in Helmi Yusof's new play, My Mother Buys Condoms, part of the Singapore Theatre Festival.PHOTO: WILD RICE

A 63-year-old tuition teacher gets a sexual reawakening and falls for an air-conditioner repairman. The seniors get frisky, to the outrage of the neighbours.

This is the storyline of My Mother Buys Condoms, a new play written by The Business Times' arts correspondent Helmi Yusof.

Directed by Wild Rice artistic director Ivan Heng, it will debut at this year's Singapore Theatre Festival, organised by the theatre company. The festival, which often features political themes and supports new writing, runs from June 30 to July 24 at Lasalle College of the Arts, and tickets go on sale from Sistic on Monday.

Seasoned journalist and first- time playwright Helmi, 41, says he wrote his play in response to "moral panic in the country, from the objection over Adam Lambert's concert here to the labelling of crowds at Little India as a threat".

"This panic stems from prejudice, so I explore that in the play. Who does she hurt when she makes these choices? Is it anybody's business to tell consenting adults how to live?"

Cheeky senior sex aside, there is another play written by multimedia journalist Nessa Anwar, 26. Riders Know When It's Gonna Rain is about four childhood friends who grow up as part of the motorbiking community here. First performed at last year's Singapore Writers' Festival, this version will be directed by Aidli Mosbit.


  • WHERE: Various locations at Lasalle College of the Arts, 1 McNally Street

    WHEN: June 30 to July 24, various times

    ADMISSION: $35 to $130 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

Nessa, a first-time writer and avid motorcyclist, says: "My play is written in Malay and it's about Malay people who are a racial minority. But it's also about another minority - the motorbiking community. So in a way, it's about a minority group within a minority. "

The last new work is Thomas Lim's Grandmother Tongue, which follows a young man's attempts to connect with his 84-year-old grandmother, who speaks only Teochew. It was partially inspired by the late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun's seminal multilingual play Mama Looking For Her Cat, which explored Singapore's multiculturalism.

Lim, 25, who is both playwright and director of the play, says: "When I went to the United Kingdom for my studies, I remember saying in a conversation that I spoke Chinese and someone asked, 'Do you mean Mandarin?' I realised that I had a misconception that Chinese and Mandarin were the same thing. That started me on this investigative journey."

In its fifth edition this year, the Singapore Theatre Festival has returned after a three-year hiatus. Wild Rice had presented a smaller- scale version of the festival, titled In The Spotlight, in 2013 after its main sponsor, Man Investments, pulled out, citing plans by its parent group to slash costs.

Five other plays will also be staged at the festival, including the wildly popular production Hotel, which sold out when it premiered at last year's Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Written by playwrights Alfian Sa'at and Marcia Vanderstraaten and co-directed by Heng and Glen Goei, Hotel, which spans 100 years of Singapore's history, racked up seven nominations at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.

The other plays are: the play Hawa by Hatch Theatrics, Teater Ekamatra's political satire Geng Rebut Cabinet (GRC), Rodney Oliveiro's play Geylang and Red Pill Productions' Let's Get Back Together, a play exploring issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Singapore.

The festival will also host a slew of activities, ranging from post-show talks and forums on various topics, to playwriting workshops, to stand-up comedy, drag and rap performances.

Heng said in a press statement: "In this day and age, many issues surrounding race, religion, politics, sex and gender identity have become divisive... The plays challenge and encourage us to imagine possibilities beyond our own biases and prejudices, giving us clues as to how we can live with one another."

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the other plays at the Singapore Theatre Festival included the 2014 pantomime Monkey Goes West. It should be the play Hawa by Hatch Theatrics instead. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Theatre festival makes a comeback'. Subscribe