Kwa Geok Choo review: Why this is a play Singaporeans will find compelling

You probably know Kwa Geok Choo: the wife of founding Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew and the mother of our present Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

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But in Kwa Geok Choo, a play by Toy Factory Productions, it’ll probably be the first time you’ll get a more in-depth understanding of this exceptional woman.

Written by well-known feminist playwright Ovidia Yu and directed by Toy Factory Productions’ Chief Artistic Director Goh Boon Teck, the play is presented as a monologue and follows the life of Kwa from girlhood till the end of her remarkable life.

This play was put together through extensive research and interviews by Ovidia into a collage portrait of Kwa Geok Choo in words.

Review: Kwa Geok Choo play

I sat in the audience on the opening night of Kwa Geok Choo and eventually found myself exploring topics that were certainly worth thinking about.

  • The “what-ifs” in Singapore history: What if Kwa Geok Choo, who was the main breadwinner and caregiver in the Lee family, wasn’t the brilliant, strong-willed, and dutiful woman that she was? What if she hadn’t supported Lee Kuan Yew’s political dream wholeheartedly? More radically, what if the roles were reversed and Kwa, as a woman, was the one who wanted to step up in the political scene?
  • How mothers could relate to one another no matter which generation you’re from: I could relate to Kwa as a woman and mother even though we were far apart in age and experiences. At the part of the performance when the story about the time when Lee Hsien Loong went missing while there were riots on the street tugged at my heart so much as a mother, my heart wrenched badly.
  • The challenges women face in the society, especially in the past, even for a more privileged woman like Kwa: while discrimination in the educational, political, and corporate realms may have improved now compared to Kwa’s time, what other areas we are still lacking? How many more generations have to work hard at it before we can reach a more satisfactory state?

My process was fulfilling yet mildly frustrating; because I still couldn’t get definitive answers to all my questions even as I got closer to them.

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Nonetheless, I still had an enjoyable time. The passionate performance by Tan Rui Shan, who played Kwa Geok Choo, managed to have me immerse myself completely into the 1.5-hour storytelling.

I had never met Kwa Geok Choo or even seen her speak. But the version of Kwa presented by Rui Shan was convincing, relatable, and likeable.

History-buffs may enjoy the parts of the play that looked into the history of Singapore and presented the circumstances the young nation were in during shortly pre-Independence and right after Independence. There were also many touching and moderately funny moments that made the play even more compelling.

The use of creative lighting and image projection had definitely enhanced the overall theatrical experience too.

However, I wished parts in the play intended to be more thought-provoking were more demonstrative, rather than presented literally, so that there could be more space for the audience to form their own thoughts about them. Too much “”explaining”, however, made those parts come across as a little preachy.

But all in all, this is a theatrical piece many will find meaningful – particularly with it running so close to National Day – and is one that I think will move most Singaporeans, no matter which generation you belong to.

Kwa Geok Choo will run till 31 July at the Victoria Theatre. Ticket are priced between S$58 and S$98, available here.