Twelve angry mothers

REVIEW / THEATRE

MOTHER I: AMMA NAAN: IBU AKU

Grace Kalaiselvi and Nur Suhaili Safari Wijaya

The Substation Theatre/Thursday

Ah, motherhood, that rare chance to bring forth, shape and influence a life. In doing so, the flesh sags, the soul aches and time is forever in the hands of others.

Good friends and budding thespians Grace Kalaiselvi and Nur Suhaili Safari Wijaya explored all the above facets in their new play, woven from their interviews with 12 women who are, or who want to be, mothers.

Clad in white from top to toe, the two women fretted and fumed around a traditional baby's hammock at centrestage, as teddy bears, baby clothes and other mothering gear hung from the ceiling.


Grace Kalaiselvi (left) and Nur Suhaili Safari Wijaya. PHOTO: GABRIEL LIM

They used their lone prop, a garishly red stole, brilliantly, now gathering it into a papoose to cradle as if it were a baby, then twisting it into an umbilical cord.

Taking turns to voice the 12 oft-angry women of various races and creeds, Nur Suhaili sat hemmed within the hammock whenever Kalaiselvi proclaimed "I am very selfish".

Later, making like a care-worn mum, Nur Suhaili ranted at all fathers: "You do not see it, you do not feel it, what are you suffering? How are you suffering?"

All the mothers represented in this hour-long play remained unidentified. That left the audience guessing as to the causes and motivation for their remarks.

This included being made to feel like a criminal not so long ago, when one had more than two children in Singapore.

After facing such ignominy from tutting hospital officers, Nur Suhaili mused, any mother would wonder why she should let "humans" spring from her loins.

The play's format reminded this reviewer of The Exonerated, the awarding-winning 2002 play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen.

  • BOOK IT / MOTHER I: AMMA NAAN: IBU AKU

  • WHEN: Today and tomorrow, 2, 5 and 8pm

    WHERE: The Substation, 45 Armenian Street

    ADMISSION: $20 to $55 at the door. E-mail mother.amma.ibu@gmail.com to reserve tickets

    INFO: In English, Malay and Tamil with English surtitles

While the latter's context was very different, being first-person narratives of six identified innocent Americans on Death Row, its audiences had no doubt as to where the actors-narrators stood, and so could take in the full joys and horrors of what they were being told.

One need not be a mother to play one well, but as Kalaiselvi and Nur Suhaili's play focused largely on the dangers and despair of conceiving and giving birth, the two single and childless actresses' lack of experience made their performances an imagining, not a recalling.

Also, as Nur Suhaili in particular whizzed through her lines, perhaps from opening-night jitters, their portrayals often wound up as caricatures. To their credit, they could have, but did not, play to the gallery.

The highlight of the evening was when, mid-way through, they broke out into a chant of "breasts, tummy, thighs and butt, spots, wrinkles and cellulite", then moved to these words in unison like classical Indian dancers.

The farce ended with Kalaiselvi drumming frenetically on Nur Suhaili's back, buttocks and thighs, with the latter protesting "Sakit, lah!" (Malay for painful).

Their talent was evident, so time and experience will lend edge and depth to their commendable, if flawed, effort.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Twelve angry mothers'. Print Edition | Subscribe