M1 Singapore Fringe Festival: Tension in familial ties

Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native, about the linked histories of a mother and a daughter, stars Adib Kosnan (left) and Moli Mohter. Yesterday it rained salt, about the relationship between a father and a son, stars So
Yesterday it rained salt, about the relationship between a father and a son, stars Soultari Amin Farid (foreground) and Muhammad Khairulnizam. PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN, NABILAH SAID AND NOOR EFFENDY IBRAHIM
Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native, about the linked histories of a mother and a daughter, stars Adib Kosnan (left) and Moli Mohter. Yesterday it rained salt, about the relationship between a father and a son, stars So
Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native, about the linked histories of a mother and a daughter, stars Adib Kosnan (left) and Moli Mohter.

Identity, displacement and the island nature of Singapore are explored in two productions written by playwright Nabilah Said for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

The first, yesterday it rained salt, is about the relationship between a father and a son, who returns home to a changing island. It is a work-in-progress presented by the Bhumi Collective.

The second is Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native, about the relationship between a woman and her adopted child.

The mother is a former offshore island-dweller dealing with the move to Singapore, while her daughter grapples with being adopted. It is directed by Noor Effendy Ibrahim.

Both works developed from the playwright's time with arts centre Centre 42's Boiler Room incubation programme in 2015.

Nabilah, 33, says: "A couple of years ago, I started being conscious of Singapore as a focal point where most things gravitate towards.

  • BOOK IT / YESTERDAY IT RAINED SALT

    WHERE: Esplanade Annexe Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Jan 19, 2 and 4pm

    ADMISSION: $15 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: In Malay and English with English surtitles

    ANGKAT: A DEFINITIVE, ALTERNATIVE, RECLAIMED NARRATIVE OF A NATIVE

    WHERE: Nafa Studio Theatre, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Campus 3, 151 Bencoolen Street

    WHEN: Jan 24 and 25, 8pm; Jan 26, 3 and 8pm

    ADMISSION: $27 from Sistic

    INFO: In Malay with English surtitles

"It made me think about the hidden narratives that existed on the fringes, of the people who lived on the islands surrounding Singapore. I found that dynamic fascinating."

An early monologue version of yesterday it rained salt was presented at the Bunker Theatre in London by the Bhumi Collective in October last year.

The Fringe Festival staging will feature more performers, including Soultari Amin Farid, joint artistic director of the Bhumi Collective.

Amin, 32, says he was drawn to the story of a son trying to connect with his father when they have little in common.

"I don't watch football, so my father has to deal with a son who is 'effeminate'," he says. "It's the idea that connecting with a person you hope to connect to might be an impossibility, especially when you've grown apart for so long."

Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native is the newest version of a concept by Nabilah which she started working on in 2015.

It was to be staged by Teater Ekamatra last year, but the script was deemed not ready and director Irfan Kasban and his team devised a different production based on her idea.

She says: "Now that I'm working with Effendy, I realise I needed so many years to develop it into what I wanted it to be. At the time, I didn't know what I wanted."

Angkat means "to carry" in Malay and "anak angkat" is the term used for an adopted child.

Given the long tradition of Malay families adopting children either within or outside the community, Effendy, 45, says: "There are a lot of young Malays nowadays you would guess are Chinese until they speak."

The play "questions bloodlines, heritage and lineage", according to the director.

The adopted child is not of the same ethnicity as his parents and is torn between embracing the borrowed ethnic identity and the identity betrayed by skin tone. "There's a denial of that history. That's where the tension is," he says.

Whether it is an adopted child coming to terms with his heritage or an offshore islander dealing with Singapore, the struggle is the same, says Nabilah. "The idea that you were born somewhere and grew up somewhere else. To me, it's an 'anak angkat' story."

Akshita Nanda

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'Tension in familial ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe