Arts Review Theatre

Review: Solo/Oray Aal 2023 by SITFE

6 new monologues that explore and celebrate Indian identity, and relations.

Now in its second instalment, the Singapore Indian Theatre and Film Explorers (SITFE) presented their new edition of their Solo/Oray Aal monologue series. Bringing together writers, directors and actors to create and perform six brand new monologues, Solo/Oray Aal 2023 reminded audience members of the power of joy, and how celebration marks the light at the end of a long hard road filled with milestones and changes.

Co-devised by director Alvin Tan and performer Indumathi Tamilselvan, Solo/Oray Aal opened with English monologue Through The Fire, telling the story of Kannagi, from the Tamil epic Cilappatikāram. While performed without props or set, it is to the credit of the team that Indumathi is able to bring out the evocative nature of the monologue, utilising its time travelling device to imagine and re-imagine what Kannagi’s future might look like. Revealing and emotional, Through the Fire is often disturbing yet sobering, and offers a powerful reflection on womanhood and survival.

In a similar vein, Through the Fire is followed by Tamil monologue கழிமுகம் (Mouth of River). Written by Syed Ashratullah, directed by Ponkumaran and performed by Indu Elangovan, Mouth of River tells the story of Ananya, a woman who is not fully able to pee due to a condition called cystocele. With this surprising but debilitating bane in her life, Ananya shares the problems this creates in an emotional outpouring of pain and suffering. Celebration here takes place after overcoming this issue with corrective surgery, as relief fills her, and we learn to appreciate and feel gratitude for the little things in life.

Still on the topic of unexpected problems and underrepresented issues, English monologue Touch Me Not is a frank exploration of sexual assault and trauma as experienced by men. Written by Aishwaryah Shanmuganathan and directed by Lewin Bernard, actor Vignesh Singh turns in a performance full of vulnerability and empathy, as Manvir, a 20-something year old man struggling with the stigma of an assault in his past. As Manvir, Vignesh showcases how such shame can cause an otherwise confident man to retreat into his shell, and how even the tiniest of physical contact can lead to shock. Most importantly however, it is about the process of recovery, as Manvir learns to slowly but surely find a way to celebrate the little things again, one step at a time.

In another, lighter male-focused story, Tamil monologue நான் வயசுக்கு வந்துடேன் (I’ve come of age) explores the joys of adolescence and puberty. Written by Umayal Thiruselvam and Santhia D/O Uthekumaran, and directed by Rohshini Tiagarajan, I’ve come of age stars Kishore Kumar as a 14-year-old student who prepares to change from shorts to pants at his school. While seemingly a simple transition, the script reveals how much symbolism there is in going from a lower sec to upper sec student, from facing newfound expectations, to becoming increasingly aware of the similarly blossoming opposite gender. Filled with such thoughts, it is nonetheless a cause of celebration amidst trepidation, and performer Kishore captures his character’s youth with a nervous but enthusiastic energy that puts a smile on audience members’ faces.

Directed by Yeo Hon Beng, and performed by Karen Tan, HOME tells the story of an older woman thinking back and reflecting on the many spaces she’s lived over the years. Originally written by Kanagalatha in Tamil, but translated and performed in English, the monologue takes us from Malaysia to Singapore following her marriage. Celebrating the end of her time in this space, she thinks back to all the memories she’s had here, from her children growing up to the time spent with her husband, now in his final resting place. Yet this is a story that ends on a twist, as Karen shows off her finely honed ability to show grief and pain as an unexpected truth comes to life, transforming her image of home forever.

Ending on a high note, Solo/Oray Aal 2023 rounds up its showcase with Tamil monologue யார் பலியாவது ? (Who’s to be Sacrificed ?). Coming full circle with yet another figure from an Indian epic, this monologue, directed by T. Sasitharan and written/performed by Abinaya Jothi, is based partially on the Mahabharata. Questioning the way various characters are treated by society, Who’s to be Sacrificed? examines three characters: a contemporary reimagining of the male character Aravan from the Mahabharata; a transperson whose job is to sing laments (oppari) during death ceremonies in the villages; and a devadasi who was a female artist dedicated to the worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life.

While the distinction between characters isn’t clear at times, Abinaya’s performance is imbued with rage and anger as she plays these roles, a resentment that burns bright each time she opens her mouth to speak, as if channeling the spirit of these aggravated souls, leaving the entire show on a sombre note and realising that the battle between individual and society can be a lifelong one, but one that must continue for the sake of bettering the world.

Solo/Oray Aal 2023 played from 10th to 12th February 2023 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. More information available here  

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