Since its debut at the Singapore Theatre Festival in 2016, Grandmother Tongue by W!ld Rice has a habit of selling out first.
Written and directed by Thomas Lim, the play is about the joys and sorrows of communicating with a grandparent.
A generation removed from our parents, our grandparents are often more isolated from modern technology, current events and that thing you need to be on top of it all: language.
For Chinese Singaporeans, it is not uncommon for their parents to speak passable Mandarin but their grandparents to speak very little, if any Mandarin. The parents and grandparents have a common language in their preferred Chinese dialect. When it comes to the children and the grandparents though, communication can be tricky.
Think about it. You’ve probably had to help your parents with their smartphones at some point of time. Recall their struggle. Now can you imagine what you’re going to do if your grandmother insists on creating a TikTok account so she can communicate with all her Gen Z great-grandchildren?
There are only two central characters: an 84 year old grandmother played by Jalyn Han and her young adult grandson, played by Tan Shou Chen. All supporting characters are played by just one actor: Rei Poh.
The push and pull that comes from tussling over the nuances of language can be seen in Grandmother Tongue, when the two generations collide over topics from food expiry date conspiracies to the potential to score government-issued freebies.
A line in the play echoes the pain of being a socially and culturally isolated elder, “Sometimes, I wish I were a Malay or Indian grandmother. At least their grandchildren can speak the same language as them.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for such an intimate portrayal of their relationship, the play was based on the playwright’s own relationship with his grandmother. You’ll be pleased to know that the lady who inspired Grandmother’s Tongue has seen the play.
If you want to see Grandmother Tongue as well, do hurry – we’re not sure if there’ll be seats left for long.
Grandmother Tongue will run from 14 – 31 January, at The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ Wild Rice, Funan.
Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased here.
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