Review: ‘(un)becoming’ Presents an Impassioned and Arresting Examination of Mother-Daughter Bonds5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
As a writer for a site primarily focused on film and television, it can feel intimidating to write on theatre performances, especially without having the appropriate vocabulary and, admittedly, the depth of knowledge in the field. Yet this fear was rather quickly dismissed while experiencing (un)becoming, easily replaced by pure admiration of the exceptionally creative storytelling approaches used, and of its endlessly affecting and thought-provoking story.
Co-created by Sim Yan Ying “YY” and Nabilah Said, (un)becoming is part of T:>Works’ final iteration of “Festival of Women, N.O.W.”, this year held in an all-digital format. (un)becoming is presented over Zoom, with a complementary showcase on Instagram collating mother-daughter stories from the public.
The digital performance, blending live performance, recorded segments and even usage of the Zoom interface, follows four women as they grapple with fractured mother-daughter relationships. Elaine (Isabella Chiam) struggles to rein in her rebellious daughter, Rina (Arielle Jasmine Van Zuijlen), motivated by teenage angst and responding to an overcontrolling mother. Rina finds solace in her friendship with neighbour Dewi (Suhaili Safari), who is subjected to scrutiny while starting out as a doula, with clients doubting her capabilities due to her inexperience with motherhood. In the background is Eggkeykey (Chanel Ariel Chan), an eccentric girl with the ability to traverse through time on her eternal search for her mother.
What personally struck me the most about the overall experience is the medium itself. How the story largely unravels through WhatsApp messages and video calls feels like an invasion of privacy, conjuring an intimate atmosphere seemingly impossible to emulate within the film medium alone. It’s one thing to show these exchanges but another altogether to participate. This is made even more overt with an arresting segment allowing viewers to toggle between Zoom windows to catch up on what each character is up to on their digital devices.
The medium only adds to the emotional depth evoked from the plot. (un)becoming is undoubtedly a women-centric story, detailing experiences and moods that a son would not be able to relate on a personal level. Still, what resonates, amidst the nuance in its straightforward plot, is the possible unity found in the universal experiences of all women as daughters — and the immeasurable emotional weight that comes with the role.
Chiam, playing the sole mother out of the quartet, perhaps best embodies this inner tension as both mother and daughter. Her moving performance is precipitated by (un)becoming’s discussion on the often-precarious relationship between mother and daughter, at one point reaching the question of if mothers — either being one and having one — are even necessary to a woman’s life.
This is mainly brought forward by Eggkeykey’s character. Chan brings a fascinating guileless wonder to Eggkeykey that is never lost even when she is tasked with delivering the production’s most pointed and confrontational lines. Her every appearance is marked with surrealism as she discusses her meetings with the various mother figures of Asian mythologies. Her innocuous tone feels exceptionally biting when she presents the idea that it’s not exactly common in nature for a mother’s role to be akin to a human’s, often resorting to eating them for survival.
Why then should modern mother-daughter relationships, with all their complexities and pain, continue to be built? Could mothers need their daughters more than the other way around? Is the mother wound worth healing? These are questions that are never evaded by (un)becoming, especially when the production is more than willing to take harrowing and startling turns with its tone, imagery and staging.
It all adds to an ever-engaging, ever-rigorous examination anchored by the splendid chemistry between Van Zuijlen and Chiam as the mother-daughter duo, lending an undeniable air of believability to their fractured relationship. Safari is tasked with perhaps the most demanding role out of the quartet, with Dewi having to reconcile her painful relationship with her deceased mother while being conflicted by all the values society has attributed to motherhood with her own.
(un)becoming is an intense and emotionally draining experience — but for all the right reasons. This writer is still reeling from amazement that the Zoom platform could leave him so emotionally bare. The production leaps into the relatively brave new world of digital theatre and brilliantly showcases the possibilities with how the format could add to storytelling, even with a story that demands — and ultimately delivers — so much raw humanity.
Presented by local arts company T:>Works and helmed by Artistic Director Noorlinah Mohamed, the all-digital “Festival of Women: N.O.W. 2021” presents an exciting line up of digital exhibitions, livestream performances, online workshops, and live chats that looks to explore and reclaim the taboo, fear, and intimacy as sources of power and inspiration.
The festival will run from 13 to 31 July, featuring a mix of free and ticketed events. The next four shows of (un)becoming are on 16 and 17 July on the 7:30pm and 10:30pm time slots — get your tickets at: https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/zlnow0721
For full information on “Festival of Women: N.O.W. 2021”, visit https://www.notordinarywork.com/
Banner image credit: T:>Works