Arts Interview Preview Singapore Theatre

★★★☆☆ Review: Big Brown Girl by How Drama

Dating in a time of Tinder, encapsulated in this interactive mini musical revue.

Thanks to the advent of dating apps, love has become a commodity, where a simple swipe right could land you the man of your dreams (or maybe, a hot one night stand). With the ability to filter, judge and block a potential date based on profile alone however, these same dating apps may have left some users less successful than others, and made clear certain prejudices.

All of that and more comes to the fore in How Drama’s brand new show Big Brown Girl. Co-created by Melissa Sim and Ross Nasir, Big Brown Girl centres on 32 year old theatremaker Ruby (Ross Nasir), a loud and proud, self-proclaimed ‘big brown girl’ who’s re-entering the dating scene after 7 years. Even without success in the local dating pool, her optimistic attitude leaves her undaunted by failure, and instead, further afield overseas.

Big Brown Girl then, follows Ruby as she goes from one Tinder date to another over several years. Known for their interactive shows, How Drama has once again injected that element into this show, with audience members getting a chance to vote on which man she should go on a date with. While it doesn’t add much in terms of the overall message, it does provide a fun moment of respite in between acts for us to feel like we have a hand to play in Ruby’s relationships.

Being a one woman show, Big Brown Girl essentially acts as a vehicle for Ross Nasir to show off her gamut of talents, and beyond acting, her greatest skill is likely her singing voice. Big Brown Girl may not be a sung-through musical, but it does feature several original songs. Buoyed by Ross’ vocals and live music, these songs are certainly the highlight of the show, each new number catchier than the last.

As for the acting, the stories told in Big Brown Girl feel intensely personal, and the production tries to create a comfortable environment to ease us in, as if Ruby were a personal friend telling us about these dates. Featuring a cosy, living room-like set, with couches and sofas lain out on a fluffy white carpet, it almost feels like we’ve been invited to Ruby’s personal room to hear her out.

For the most part, there is enough intrigue in each date to keep us wondering how it proceeds. Taking us from Paris to Washington DC, the men in Ruby’s life span cities across the world, each with their own share of quirks, and none really giving her the satisfaction she so desires. The ‘cast’ is varied enough that Ross gets a chance to show off a few accents and character work, but it can be difficult to differentiate between the men at times, due to how their personalities become increasingly similar.

Perhaps most disturbing about the show is how towards the end, Big Brown Girl flips the script and takes a hard turn away from its otherwise light-hearted tone. Years on, still single, Ruby has faced far too many disappointments, and no longer thinks too hard about the men we meet. Taking a dive into the deep end, she faces a profoundly traumatic experience (performed in graphic detail by Ross onstage) and the incongruousness of the scene is shocking, to say the least.

Not yet having recovered from that scene, Big Brown Girl veers off on a positive note once again, and brushes off the trauma as resolved through a series of visits to the therapist. Even if the story ends on a note of optimism with Ruby’s final beau, the best of the lot who instils confidence and hope in her once more, it feels like an odd, almost rushed way to resolve the distressing climax, and leaves a few gaps that seem glossed over.

Nonetheless, perhaps one then could see Big Brown Girl as an honest, realistic look at modern dating – mostly awkward and a little messy, but ultimately, a bumpy journey of self-discovery as we encounter and leave behind one stranger after another. By its final exuberant song, Ross, as Ruby, has convinced us that though the road may be long, everyone deserves a happy ending, regardless of shape, size or colour. Just as long as you’re willing to put yourself out there, and to keep looking until you find it.

Photo Credit: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Big Brown Girl runs from 10th to 12th and 17th to 19th December 2021 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio and online. Tickets available here

Listen to songs from Big Brown Girl on Spotify

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