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TNS presents Gemuk Girls

November 12, 2011
by

Event: Gemuk Girls by The Necessary Stage
Run: 9-13 Nov, 16-20 Nov 2011 (all sold out)
Written by: Haresh Sharma
Directed by: Alvin Tan
Performed by: Aidli ‘Alin’ Mosbit (
as Kartini), Najib Soiman (as Datuk), Siti Khalijah (as Juliana)

I think I’ve only seen such a ‘presentation’ style on film. I had thought that the limited time and space/backdrop given in a play didn’t really allow for this to happen. But I was wrong. Even though the play was only 90 minutes, the production team & cast managed to pull off two (short) ‘what-if’ scenarios where the play diverged in two directions, giving audience the perspective of two possible outcomes for the mother (Kartini) and daughter (Juliana). If you have watched the movie ‘Sliding Doors’ or ‘Run Lola Run’, you might know what I’m talking about. A sequence of events occur and at a particular point, two storylines are told, depending on particular decisions made.

In Gemuk Girls, the diverging point came with the news of the death of the mother’s estranged father Datuk, along with the discovery of his detainment under the ISA in the 60s for being a suspected communist. And at that point, we were presented with two scenarios set 3 years later:

1) The daughter switching to the opposition camp to put up a passionate fight for the exoneration of her grandfather’s guilt and injustice suffered while her mother remains seemingly aloof and caught up with making money (as an escape).
2) The roles reversed from scenario 1 as the daughter continues her rise as a pro-government MP, while her mother was the one who cared and dwells in sadness over the loss of her father.

Well, I hadn’t realised that they were providing alternate histories during the second scenario until they mentioned the timeline of 3 years. I had wondered how the daughter could switch her beliefs so quickly…maybe because of marriage? For a moment I had thought her “swaying” was the reason her mother was upset and “expected more” out of the daughter, which she reiterated many times. What did she expect from the daughter? Was it something as depicted in the conclusion?

As before, Haresh Sharma’s play sets us thinking, and leaves room for interpretation. Honestly, I went to the play not knowing much about it except that it was something about the relationship between a mother and daughter, and that it has been re-staged a few times (of which I didn’t manage to get tickets on the last 2 stagings). However, upon watching, I felt it wasn’t so much about the relationship between a mother and daughter, but one that explores the impact of politics on a family and also the dynamics of family politics as purported. Maybe we can draw a parallel between these two political environment. A state of magic realism surfaced again in this production, allowing mother and daughter to each communicate with the dead Datuk in the separate scenarios.

For me, one of the most moving parts was when the authorities tried to force Datuk into signing a confession at a so-called farewell party for him, tempting him with freedom just outside the door where his family awaited. But he couldn’t do it, as he couldn’t confess to something which was not true. You can’t help but feel indignant.

However, the sudden interjection of the scene with the three characters coming together left me a bit clueless about the reason for that segment. But something Juliana said struck me – something along the line of ‘if you want to fight, then know which side you’re on and live the consequences’. Maybe the 2 scenarios was just that? Another point I gleaned was that violence and oppression is not the answer. Patience and peace is. You might wait a long time, but there is always hope in the future.

As for the performance, I felt the cast did well in their roles. There was a certain amount of good interplay between them and their handling of the stage and roles. I must say, Siti Khalijah’s Mandarin wasn’t too bad.

After the show, the emphasis on numbers and permutations left me thinking that there can be a number of permutations of how circumstances like this might affect not just the individuals, but also their families. The weight, the stigma and more. Well, maybe I’m reading too much into all that went on, but I guess it’s good for something to allow one to think.

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