Mum’s the Word for Recalling Mother

With their evolving two-woman play Recalling Mother, Claire Wong and Noorlinah Mohamed celebrate and document the lives and struggles of the women who raised them.

Recalling Mother began as a much different piece in 2006, as Wong and Mohamed originally celebrated their mothers who, back then, were sprightly women in their late 70s/early 80s.

“It was about celebrating their quirkiness, their little antics, our relationships with them and our struggles,” Mohamed says. “Then in 2009 it expanded. It looked at the generation gap, language differences, and how their worldview is different from ours. Then things turned a bit darker, they got ill, their bodies started changing. My mother had dementia.”

“Suddenly old age was upon them and us, so the kinds of issues we were grappling with were very different and in quite a short space of time if you think about it,” Wong says. “Their lives just dramatically changed, it [the play] began to be much more about how their roles were changing.”

Wong and Mohamed’s mothers don’t speak English and are illiterate, which in a
rapidly changing technological and English-dominated Singaporean world means there are plenty of challenges for them to encounter and overcome. The two playwrights, who perform versions of themselves in Recalling Mother, wanted to show there was more to their mothers than a lack of an education, especially in the beginning.

“There was this wonderfulness we wanted to share,” Mohamed says. “We often talk about success in women with the kind of jobs they have and how they are always able to juggle work with motherhood but what about the housewives, the homemakers, aren’t they successful? We talk about it conceptually, we talk about it intellectually and we write about it in the newspapers but we don’t hear about their stories as protagonists in productions on stage.”

Given that the play consistently evolves, audience members over the decade long journey of the piece have remarked to the playwrights how Recalling Mother has got darker over the years.

“It was quite unplanned,” Wong says. “We didn’t plan to do this [update the play every few years] when we set out to make this piece.”

“Even the form has changed,” Mohamed says. “The presentation, the set. We developed a set for it, because we first performed it in a black box with no lights, just two chairs and general lighting. We still keep the two-chair concept, it’s just evolved. It’s very intimate still; the idea of an intimate conversation is still there.”

Wong and Mohamed have achieved much academic and artistic success. Wong is a trained lawyer who has a Masters of Fine Arts from Columbia University while Mohamed has a PhD in arts education but to Wong their mothers are equally as successful.

“These are women who successfully made a home and raised their children very well, and they expressed love in a very different way from how a modern parent might express love today. They are both very curious. That’s what we realised when understanding our mothers and what they were like as young women. They are both very curious, very able to absorb knowledge. This idea of being uneducated is just in relation to a formal education, they absorb knowledge and skills through their eyes and their mouths. My mother would taste something and stay up all night looking to discover that taste, it’s a very different way of dealing with the world and coping and mastering skills. They are so skilful.”

Recalling Mother
OzAsia Festival
Space Theatre
Friday, September 22 to Saturday, September 23
ozasiafestival.com.au

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