Playful Phoenix: Women Write for the Singapore Stage

Paperback; 401 pages
Singapore Press Holdings
1 copy available at C42

Preview of Playful Phoenix. Pages have been omitted in this book preview.


"This collection is the first of its kind in Singapore to feature women dramatists. Written in English for an English-speaking audience, the plays grapple with the limitations and resources of English­ language theatre (ranging from its Anglo-American sources to emergent international forms) by attempting to deconstruct and infuse it with local, multicultural, multi-dialectal idioms and forms. They join a growing body of Anglophone Southeast Asian theatrical works struggling to cultivate a local identity and audience. At the same time, in their focus on women's identity and agency, they break new ground by highlighting the complex dynamics of gender, family and sexuality. 


"Not coincidentally, at least two plays deal directly with the thematics of sisterhood. In both Eleanor Wong's and Tan Mei Ching's plays, sisters meet after a separation imposed by contemporary diasporic realities to recognise their differences and bonds. Both plays call up the buried resentments and hostilities families hide and which erupt at moments of crisis. Wong's play pits the sisters, Ellen and Grace, against each other as they sort out the remnants of their deceased mother's estate. While Ellen imagines her lesbianism to be the source of their animosities, it becomes clear that these originate from a deeper sense of betrayal and abandonment on both sisters' part. Only when this fact is acknowledged can they be reconciled. Ultimately, the idea of sisterhood is stretched to accommodate a broader, higher, notion of love and loyalty, one which accepts imperfections of body and will and the idea of a flawed God. Tan's play, similarly, finds - in her own whimsical, elliptical manner - a way to show how sisters can fail to perceive each other's needs, but somehow, through sheer persistence and a willingness to appear foolish and vulnerable, manage to embrace each other. 
Leow Puay Tin's play explores women's vulnerabilities and strengths through a multi-generational saga of work and sacrifice. In her play, we are reminded of women's crucial roles not only in the sustenance of pioneering families but also in the building of modern societies in Singapore and elsewhere. As in Wong's, Tan's and other plays, she shows how family relationships evolve ambiguously to bolster and galvanise energies, and, at the same time, to entrap and stifle women. 

"Dana Lam's, Ovidia Yu's and Chin Woon Ping's plays can also be said to explore ideas of sisterhood. The mode these playwrights choose is less realistic, more poetic perhaps than the other play but they share with the latter a similar impulse to explore feminine space and to plumb the depths of female experience and emotion. Lam's dense, cryptic lines revolve around questions of identity and memory ("How to begin?"). They ask questions posed implicitly by all the other plays - what women search for, why they suffer, how they prevail. "I'm looking for the moon," says one of her Women. Yu's Woman climbs up a tree to find herself - a symbol, perhaps, of women's need for space and transcendence. In giving a voice to Noah's wife, the prototype of women behind the scenes in masculinist narratives, she recalls all women from time immemorial who cleaned, cooked, minded the animals and held up half the sky but were written out of the history books. Yu invokes the figure of Nu Wa as an archetypal creator in Chinese mythology and places her in a configuration of modern and premodern feminist characters challenging patriarchal domination. Chin's Madwoman, a female counterpart to Lu Xun 's Madman, tells us her journey is not over and she will never arrive."

(Source: Playful Phoenix Introduction by Chin Woon Ping)


The Woman in a Tree on the Hill
Ordinary Woman
Wills and Secession
Quiet the Gorilla
Diary of a Madwoman

productions & stagings

View all