A Love Affair for the Ages

‘Old isn’t dead’, say Lok Meng Chue and Remesh Panicker, who play a couple finding love later in life in My Mother Buys Condoms.
Remesh and Meng Chue share a light moment during rehearsals

The world at large is not kind to those of a certain age. The more silver streaks appear in your hair, the less you count for much in a society that desperately prizes youth and vitality.

Never mind the fact that growing old gracefully is something we would all do well to learn. After all, it’s the one thing every single one of us – if we’re blessed to live longer lives – will have to go through some day.

“Growing old is not a curse,” observes Lok Meng Chue, whose character in My Mother Buys Condoms, Maggie, finds love later in life. “It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s not something to deny. It’s not something to run away from or make fun of. For me, it’s a very natural process.”

“Helmi reminds us that ‘old’ isn’t ‘dead’,” says Remesh Panicker, who plays Raju – an air-con repairman whose relationship with Maggie scandalises her friends and family. “He’s written a funny yet serious play about prejudices, stereotypes and judgements.”

Remesh plays Raju, an air-con repairman
who starts getting lessons in how to read from Maggie

The play goes beyond enlightening younger audiences about the power and possibilities that remain after the bloom of youth has faded. There’s an element of empowerment, too, in how Maggie breaks out of her comfort zone to go after what she wants.

“A lot of the time, people box themselves in – because of societal pressure, family expectations, or their own desire to stick with the comfortable and familiar,” Meng Chue points out.

Believing that your best days are behind you, as Maggie initially does in the play, can be just as limiting as what other people think of you.

“Maggie’s liberation in the play is not just a sexual one, but a very human one,” explains Meng Chue. Meeting and falling in love with Raju forces her to re-evaluate her life and whether she truly is content with it.

Meng Chue’s Maggie finds herself falling in love again,
when she thought those days were long gone

Both actors share quite a lot in common with their characters. Meng Chue and Maggie are both 60, and share a love of reading. Remesh notes that he, like Raju, is a Malaysian-born Indian, and they are both optimists and romantics at heart.

Playing the differences, however, has proved challenging. “I’ve never played a character of such limited formal education,” muses Remesh. He’s still working out a believable speech pattern for Raju, who can neither read nor write in English.

For Meng Chue, a key challenge lies in taking on the lead role. “When you’re a supporting actor, it’s very fun,” she laughs. “You come in, you make your point, and then you leave!” But carrying most of a show can be “frightening” and “draining”.

Nonetheless, she was eager to take the role because she firmly believes in encouraging and championing new artists. “I have always looked forward to working on new plays,” she enthuses. “It’s good to have new playwrights: people who want to write and share their thoughts.”

Maggie and Raju swipe right on each other and make a connection!

Audiences are the crucial final ingredient in theatre-making. Meng Chue and Remesh are both keen to ensure that the play’s message of love, understanding and tolerance comes through loud and clear.

“It was very important for me to make this person real,” stresses Meng Chue. “To convince people that this can happen to anybody you meet on the bus or in the shopping centre.”

For Remesh, the play doesn’t just advocate the use of condoms as prophylactics. “It matters because it is essentially about keeping everyone – regardless of age, gender, race, social standing, beliefs or sexual orientation – safe and protected.”

My Mother Buys Condoms, starring Lok Meng Chue and Remesh Panicker, plays at the Singapore Theatre Festival from 14 to 24 July 2016. Tickets are sold out.
Visit www.singaporetheatrefestival.com for more information!

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