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M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: Step Outta Line by Thong Pei Qin (Review)

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Thong Pei Qin summons the old guard of feminist artists for a new generation.

If Step Outta Line was anyone’s first introduction to playwright Ovidia Yu, they’d probably come away with the impression that this was one angry woman.

And rightfully so. Yu was one of the most outspoken and prominent female local playwrights of the 90s, with seminal plays that dared rebel against the patriarchy, pushed and questioned the limits of acceptable female sexuality, and without a doubt, an icon for plenty of young women in her time. Combine that with the force of visual artist Amanda Heng’s indelible imagery, and you’d probably have the perfect recipe for some pretty powerful extracts about gender and equality.

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This is exactly what theatre maker Thong Pei Qin does in Step Outta Line, and together with her brethren of 12 NAFA students, takes snippets from Yu’s plays and weaves them into a tapestry depicting the state of Singaporean women in the 90s. Step Outta Line is incredibly straightforward, with Thong having chosen the most overtly feminist lines and performing them while her cast clad themselves in attire reminiscent of Heng’s work, from the sarong kebaya motif from her iconic ‘Singirl’ series to of course, the red heels from ‘Let’s Walk’, which they held in their mouths at various points during the show.

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With an army of characters from Yu’s imagination, we watch as ‘fat’ virgins discuss men (Three Fat Virgins), girls raise concerns about their breasts (Breast (issues)), mothers lament their lives (Playing Mothers), lesbians engage in violent squabbles (Hitting (on) Woman) and a woman finds solace and power in a tree (The Woman In A Tree On The Hill). Step Outta Line represents the myriad of women that make up the Singaporean population and their daily struggles with both men and each other, daring to speak on the most taboo of issues. As if eschewing its own circular set, the play constantly stretches and pushes at the invisible boundaries that tie them down. It’s important that Thong Pei Qin decided to work with a cast of multiple races, multiple sizes and from all kinds of backgrounds to showcase the sheer diversity present in Singapore, yet sharing similar, relatable experiences as observed by Yu.

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Ultimately, Step Outta Line acts as a means of remembering the work these modern female heroes have done, reintroducing them to a new generation. Even the oldest of Ovidia Yu’s lines echo true today, and continue to remind us of the seemingly unending uphill battle women are facing on a daily basis, calling for unity amongst its young audience to band together and continue to fight for gender equality.

Photo Credit: Asrari Nasir, Paradise Pictures

Performance attended 18/1/18

Step Outta Line plays at NAFA Studio Theatre (Campus 3) till 21st January. Tickets available from SISTIC

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