MOTHER I : AMMA NAAN : IBU AKU by Kalaiselvi Grace and Suhaili Safari

“To literally have your heart walking outside of you”

Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 8 May 2016

Mother I, performed in English, Malay and Tamil, is a nuanced tribute to motherhood, staged (rather predictably) during the Mother’s Day weekend. The work is performed by Kalaiselvi Grace and Suhaili Safari,  devised from interviews with women about their motherhood experiences.

I have always had mixed feelings about verbatim theatre because in some instances it ends up being little more than a collection of interviews with limited curation to help shape the piece as a performance.  In this case Kalaiselvi and Suhaili have shaped their performance with care and thought. It is also nice to watch a collaborative performance that for once allows more of a minority voice to be heard.

Mother I is at times playful, at times touching, and at times slaps the audience in the face with brutal reality. The strength of the work lies in the inclusion of points of view that run counter to the usual clichés of motherhood – stereotypical ideal of noble self-sacrifice, or a role that ‘completes’ a woman etc.  In this performance, we are shown fears, doubts and frustrations experienced by women – not having time for themselves, changes to the body that are difficult to reverse, not being fully prepared to have a child, not wanting children at all, and so on.

These stories are interspersed with movement sequences that are themselves intriguing to watch, as both Kalaiselvi and Suhaili are strong and clear in their gestures. Throughout the performance the motif of a long red dappled cloth dominates and is used in the movement sequences in varied ways.  These include using it to signify an umbilical cord or bundled up to represent a baby.

The set is striking, with a huge red sarong (a hammock-like cradle for a baby to sleep in) hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the stage, dominating the stage picture. Around this, several baby dresses and toys are also suspended from the ceiling. On entering the theatre and observing the set before the show starts, the feeling that I get is actually rather spooky, reminiscent of horror movies à la Chucky. My main gripe about Mother I is that there seems to be a sense of disconnect between the ominous-looking set and the genuine, thoughtful content of the piece.

Nevertheless, this independent project, rare in Singapore’s theatre landscape, has the potential to be taken beyond this initial showing and developed further into an even more substantial and tighter work. For now, I continue to ponder the many bittersweet aspects of motherhood presented by Mother I : Amma Naan : Ibu Aku.

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MOTHER I : AMMA NAAN : IBU AKU by Kalaiselvi Grace and Suhaili Safari 
5 – 8 May 2016
The Substation


Jocelyn Chng graduated from the Masters in International Performance Research programme, receiving a double degree from the Universities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Tampere, Finland. She currently freelances and teaches at the LASALLE College of the Arts.