by Natasha Martina and Sue Mythen
Ground Cover Theatre
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: Let's Walk
(organised and curated by TNS)
Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore

Three women. Three centuries. All fleeing their hometown to seek a better life. This taut, evocative play by Ground Cover Theatre as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival tackles the immigration experience with breathtaking grace and sensitivity.

Whether it's Mary (Jacqueline Block) fleeing famine-stricken Ireland in 1847, Sofia (Anna Mazurik departing  war-torn Germany in 1947 or Dara (Emma Laishram) running away from from Taliban-run Afghanistan in 2007, Canada stands as the land of promise: a place where these women can start their lives afresh.

Photo Credit: JL Photo

Director, co-creator and co-writer Natasha Martina grounds the work in movement and gives us a production that is arresting in its physical vocabulary. While we get the chance to follow the stories of each character, there are beautifully stylised sequences which collapse time and space. The women perform household chores like scrubbing, washing and ironing whilst sharing the same stage. The play is keen to bring out the universality of these refugees' experience - trying to adapt to a foreign place, missing loved ones and doing menial work to make ends meet. They become extensions of the same displaced individual, hoping against hope for something better.

The journey of each character is filled with heartbreak and hope. A desperate Mary resorts to peddling alcohol to raise money for her family's passage across sea, landing her in prison. At her employer's behest, Sofia sells her most treasured possession - her late husband's violin - to start a dress shop and gain financial independence. Dara battles cultural and linguistic alienation but strikes up an unlikely friendship with Leslie, a homeless woman she encounters.

Photo Credit: S E Grumett

Martina is sensitive to pace and allows the scenes to bleed softly into each other with seamless transitions. The design is exceedingly simple: just three long crates which the actors place in a variety of configurations. The narrative, meticulously researched and based partly on real-life experiences of immigrants, allows us to appreciate each individual as a fully-realized character while providing a larger picture of female friendship and tenacity in the face of adversity. 

The actors do a magnificent job in inhabiting their characters and playing an assortment of smaller parts. They switch between personas with just a simple costume or change of accent. A spontaneous Afghan dance between Dara and Leslie is a joy to watch. A scene of the illiterate Mary dictating a letter for her son back home, raw emotions washing over her face, is deeply moving.

Displaced is, ultimately, a stirring meditation on the difficulty of leaving one’s home and seeking solace in another. In this constantly changing world, it reminds us of that common thread of humanity that binds us across time.

The Crystalwords score: 4/5


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