Review: Every Singaporean Daughter by Unsaid
Unsaid is a social enterprise/arts collective who have been actively highlighting awareness of women’s issues this year, and breaks onto the theatre scene with their debut production.
Every Singaporean Daughter‘s title riffs on the popular web series Every Singaporean Son, aiming to showcase the shared experience of the Singaporean female in this production. Playwright Marie Ee used stories and e-mails submitted to Unsaid to weave a family drama exploring various gender and social issues in society. It’s rare to see such social drama enacted onstage so current and relatable and even rarer to see such a large, capable cast of 11 take it on with aplomb.
The plot of Every Singaporean Daughter follows Civil Engineering student and Wushu practitioner Chloe (Amber Lin) and her typical Singaporean family, consisting of her house wife mum (Deborah Hoon), silent but hardworking dad (Muhammad Hakim) and close knit brother Daniel (Darren Guo). Daniel happens to be dating a Iman (Rusydina Afiqah Binte Razali), a Malay girl whose traditional Malay family consisting of her sassy gossip mongering mum (Nadiyah Farhanah) and brother (Faiz Othman), doesn’t quite see her interracial relationship working out in future.
The setting seems typical enough, a normal family with the occasional quirks. But it is precisely because of how normal these families are that it becomes a hotbed for taboo issues left undiscussed in our daily lives. Chloe’s longtime wushu coach (Lyon Sim) ends up raping her, after getting jealous of her interest in a new trainee (Krish Natarajan), and leads to Chloe changing from a driven girl wanting to prove other wrong into an emotional wreck, unsure whether to give up the only thing she’s known her entire life, or continue her practice in fear and loathing. Along the way, we also explore issues of paranoia from Chloe’s mum, broken families in Iman’s late father, body shaming (in a well-performed monologue by Jasmine Blundell, as Chloe’s allegedly lesbian Aunt Peggy) and even the unfair amount of expectations thrust upon males, despite being a play ostensibly dealing with ‘female’ issues. Because of how relateable these characters are, some of which we’ve probably encountered in our everyday lives, these issues feel all too real and much more of an emotional gutpunch than I expected.
One of the strongest aspects of the play is the amazing chemistry between actors. In the post-show dialogue, Amber Lin and Darren Guo both answered that they used the strong brother-sister relationship between their characters as an entry point to truly relate to them, as opposed to simply seeing them as playing a role, and this shone through in a shared scene where Chloe and Daniel play an FPS game together, recounting their childhood and teasing each other about how they’d let the other win. It’s one of the play’s most genuine moments, and despite it not dealing with any particular social issue, allowed the audience to do as the actors did, and realize that these are real everyday people who go through problems like that. Also of note would be the mother characters played by Deborah Hoon and Nadiyah Farhanah, who made the audience laugh with their stereotypical ‘aunty’ phone calls, while finding their way into audience members’ hearts by showing genuine care for their families, and basically being greats mums. It is precisely these sincere relationships portrayed onstage that prevent the play from lapsing into a prescriptive rant and instead raises it to becoming relevant issues that resonate, because it could very well happen to someone we know.
Director Preveena Cartelli also manages to weave in some interesting directorial quirks into the play. Because of the performative nature of Wushu, there was plenty of room to insert physical theatre sequences throughout the play, including the pint sized Wendi Wee Hian as Chloe’s conscience, doubling Chloe’s movements and revealing the side of her she refuses to show to the public. Cartelli also cleverly re-enacts the rape scene as a series of exercises between Chloe and her coach, allowing its depiction to avoid the trap of being over dramatized or coming off as kitschy, and instead artfully showing the audience how much the rape experience is nearly impossibly difficult to describe and recount.
Ee’s script doesn’t always flow perfectly, sometimes feeling slightly didactic, and Cartelli’s directorial choices at times teeter on the edge of cliche, such as the largely unnecessary 2-person chorus occasionally making an appearance. But by the end of the play, these will have mostly fizzled from memory, as the cast has successfully forged a bond and understanding with the audience. What emerges is an ambiguous, heartbreaking final sequence of scenes, showing a family left confused and crushed, and a newfound knowledge that rape affects not just a person, but an entire tribe’s worth of people.
All in all, a job well done to the team behind Every Singaporean Daughter for creating a daring social piece that speaks up and raises awareness of the issues most of us have been keeping silent about. In addition, whoever designed the programme deserves special mention for a job well done in creating a quality booklet that both informs and acts as a nice keepsake. Hopefully in future, Unsaid continues to explore these topics in greater depth and keep on reaching out to the public, who will certainly benefit from a watch.
Every Singaporean Daughter runs for another 3 shows, 3.30pm and 7.30pm on the 16th July and 3.30pm on the 17th July. Tickets available from PEATIX. Students get to purchase tickets at a great price of $15 with a valid student pass.