Arts festival Review Singapore Theatre

Review: I, Frida by Ay, Caramba! Theatre

Heartfelt one woman show of a Hispanic family’s struggles as migrants in Canada.

In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Foreign, the Scottish poet invites readers to imagine themselves as a migrant in a strange country, where ‘You think/in a language of your own and talk in theirs’. Unless you’ve lived in a country with a vastly different culture from your own for an extended period of time, you’re unlikely to ever truly know what it means to be a migrant. That is, unless you hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, something Yulissa Campos offers with her one-woman show I, Frida.

Produced by her company Ay, Caramba! Theatre and directed by Ed Mendez, I, Frida is a play that draws from countless interviews Yulissa conducted with fellow migrants, and the stories and experiences they shared with her. Herself an Ecuadorian woman who moved to Canada for her studies, the material in I, Frida is rich in its realism, funny in its relatability, and will ultimately break you in small unexpected ways.

I, Frida follows a young Hispanic teenager as her family migrates to Saskatchewan, Canada. Over the course of the play, we watch as she struggles to fit in at school, not just as the new kid, but one for whom English is an unfamiliar language for her, escalating fears of being singled out and bullied for being different. The play draws its title from how she ends up discovering and drawing strength from artist and icon of strength Frida Kahlo, whose history she delves into so as to continually remind herself to persevere on.

As a fourteen-year old girl, Yulissa imbues her performance with a feverish, manic energy, felt most prominently in the eagerness of her voice. While physically it’s a little hard to see her as a teen, she still manages to encapsulate the spirit of the character, and I, Frida comes off as a show that is likely to appeal to audience members of all ages.

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While there are times it’s difficult to tell when Yulissa’s shifts from character to character aren’t clearly differentiated, there are moments her performance is completely arresting, in spite of the face shield she’s wearing. There is a wonderful, almost ‘magical girl’ transformation where she fully embodies Frida Kahlo and speaks her words, and another where she seems possessed by anxiety as she is ‘forced’ to learn English, the fear evident on her face.

Yulissa’s performance is also helped by the set, evoking a sense of place with just enough furniture in each ‘room’, while she also uses props such as a Muppet-like puppet to represent her brother to further endear us to the show. As a recorded piece, the camera also helps ensure she’s always addressing us head-on, and helps dilute the impossible distance that comes from a pre-recorded show.

Towards the end of the play, I, Frida truly shines when it she watches her mother crumble from the stress, but surviving, hanging on anyway. When it goes beyond just the archetypes of immigrant issues, complicating itself with family drama, this is where we get our heart broken, as we witness this through Yulissa’s eyes, and finds the strength and confidence instead from her own mother. At its heart, I, Frida is a simple but familiar story of a fish out of water learning to navigate these foreign seas, buoyed by Yulissa’s unbridled enthusiasm and charm as she pushes forward her agenda of putting minority stories onstage. And to that end, she has succeeded.

Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Deneault

I, Frida streams from 25th to 31st January 2021 as part of the 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Tickets available here

The 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival runs from 20th to 31st January 2021. Tickets available from SISTIC

For the first time, the Fringe is launching a special stay-home package to catch all performances at the festival via SISTIC Live. For an exclusive rate of $95, get access to all videos on demand of the Fringe performances throughout their screening periods.

Check out more information and the safety measures at venues the Fringe will be held at on their website here

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