Recalling Mother

by Claire Wong and Noorlinah Mohamed
Checkpoint Theatre
The Esplanade: The Studios
Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore

Checkpoint Theatre's Recalling Mother, a warm and wistful two-hander about mothers and daughters, is like catching up with an old friend over a cup of coffee.

This fourth staging of the play since 2006 - presented, very aptly, as part of the Esplanade's Studios season themed around The Fiction of Memory - builds upon the endearing formula of the previous productions while bringing new perspectives to the table. The production both draws from its previous iterations and valiantly looks forward; recordings from the 2009 production intersperse the narrative while entirely new segments have been added to refresh the text.

Photo Credit: Jack Yam, Lime Pixels courtesy of Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Recalling Mother is about two adult daughters (Claire Wong and Noorlinah Mohamed) chatting with each other and telling stories about their mothers, women who both speak a different language from them and who have led very different lives. While previous versions of the play had focused on the the cultural and generational conflicts between parent and child, this staging in particular emphasizes the element of age. 

There are rich and quietly moving anecdotes about dementia and the loneliness of growing old alone. We watch, rapt, as Noorlinah narrates the detailed thoughts going through the mind of Claire's mother - cooking, cleaning, family and the constant pain she feels - as she sits in front of her television set seemingly idle. Elsewhere, we are privy to the ramblings of Noorlinah's mother, intent on recounting an experience of catching fresh squid from the sea to her bemused daughter in the middle of the night.

Both Wong and Noorlinah (who also co-direct) display a remarkable fluidity and energy in their performances, moving between languages and genres with consummate ease. In a heart-wrenching scene, Claire portrays her mother scolding an errant maid in a mixture of Malay and Cantonese before ultimately breaking down when she doesn't seem to get through to her. In another moment, Noorlinah whisks us back to her childhood, recounting her giddy joy in finally finding a father-figure when she and her single mother meet a gentleman caller.

Photo Credit: Jack Yam, Lime Pixels courtesy of Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Too many of us these days take our loved ones for granted and never find the time to learn their stories and secrets. Recalling Mother reminds us that the most satisfying moments in life are sometimes the simplest ones: a quiet smile of contentment between mother and daughter as they share a meal or speak on the phone, by equal measure indulgent and irritated at each other's quirks. The subtle set and lighting design by Petrina Dawn Tan, stylish costumes by Laichan that capture the gulf between modern and traditional and measured pace of the production come together beautifully into an organic whole.

Checkpoint Theatre has always excelled at laying bare quiet, unguarded moments of humanity and Recalling Mother is no exception. One leaves the theatre not with the feeling that a chapter has been closed but, rather, that a new conversation is just about to begin. 

The Crystalwords score: 3.5/5

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