'Dear Nora' preview: Superficial love in Singapore

By Jo TanEvents - 09 June 2014 12:00 AM | Updated 11:21 AM

'Dear Nora' preview: Superficial love in Singapore

The idea was to do a play based on a love story – one involving Singapore.

What would it be like if Singapore was a woman? Who would her lovers be? Who would her suitors be?

These questions came to Luke Kwek, artistic director of theatre collective Our Company.

“Then, I watched a video of ‘A Doll's House’ and for some reason was really affected by it,” he told inSing. “I thought, if Singapore was a person, it might well be (the protagonist) Nora.” 

‘A Doll's House’ is an 1879 classic by legendary playwright Henrik Ibsen, audaciously questioning the norms of marriage. In it, sweet young Nora seems to be in an ideal marriage with her upper-middle-class husband Torvald, until secrets are revealed, and she realises that her flawless family is a sham. Will she continue playing her perfect part? 

Kwek said: “Nora really speaks to me as a Singaporean. Growing up here, life is very simple, I feel very sheltered.” 

The 33-year-old said he sailed through some top schools here before becoming a lawyer and theatre practitioner. “Sometimes I wonder if I'm really in touch with life, and if one day I'll wake up and think, everything is so artificial. 

“In Singapore, we sweep many things under the carpet, whether family issues, or social issues like racism and xenophobia, but increasingly we find we cannot hide them anymore…and then what will happen?”

In the company's latest production, actress-to-watch 26-year-old Ethel Yap plays Nora. She has been the lead of theatre company W!ld Rice's ‘Jack and the Beansprout’and more recently, Toy Factory'sRomeo and Juliet’.

The play opens on 18 June and will be playing at the Drama Centre Black Box.

26-year-old actress Ethel Yap plays Nora. Photo: Our Company


Our Company's adaptation of ‘A Doll's House’ makes the characters more immediately identifiable to many modern Singaporeans. 

Yap said: “Nora's husband is a consultant, and Nora herself is a young soon-to-be mum. Both are university graduates. During rehearsals, doing improvisational exercises to discover the characters' backstory, we decided they met at a Singapore-Malaysia society meeting of their university in middle-town Australia.

“Since graduation, Nora hasn't really worked, except in ad-hoc internships which taught her absolutely nothing, except how to surf YouTube. Then she swiftly married into what she thought was 'the high life'. She definitely reminds me of someone I know, and I think people will see many personal friends in this character.”

This role comes at a thoughtful time for Yap, who will herself be getting married barely a month after the show. 

“To me, ‘Dear Nora’ talks about what makes a meaningful marriage. There are so many layers of what Nora and her husband think to be the truth about each other, but which are not true at all. 


“How can two parties be honest with, and vulnerable to each other? Out of love, would you lie to your partners? I know couples in relationships that are not honest with each other at all. They don't know why they are together and probably don't love each other, but it's quite likely that they will get married. What makes people want to get married, and stay married, and how do they do it?”

Kwek has a quick answer to that: “It's the HDB (government-built) flats, in Singapore at least. When you need to think about applying for a flat, and other practical issues, it makes the marriage process a bit more predetermined than it needs to be. You have to commit for three years to get housing, so you commit prematurely, you take it for granted that marriage is the way to go even before you are sure of your partner, like Nora. 

“Then after you get married, public reputation and social image are a big part of what keeps you together: everybody is watching you because of social media. I think this play is especially relevant here.”

Yap said that although the character she plays is conscious of being in the public eye and “maybe just one step down” from being a full-fledged socialite, she is nothing like her.

“I'll say some of her lines in rehearsals, and go ‘Eee, I can't believe I just did that.' It makes me physically uncomfortable to talk about some of the things that she has come to accept as an everyday part of her lifestyle.”

Kwek relates on some level to Nora, but also to her husband. He said: “I fear that it's so easy to be in a relationship, and you take your loved ones for granted. You don't treat them like real people, they just fill a position in your life. And that's something to beware, something we hope ‘Dear Nora'will help audiences think about.”

‘Dear Nora’ | Date: 18-22 June 2014 | Time: 8pm Wed-Sun, 3pm Thurs, Sat & Sun | Venue: Drama Centre Black Box, National Library Building, #05-01, 100 Victoria Street | Tickets: $30 from ticketmash.sg

Our Company: Dear Nora

Our Company: Dear Nora

Date Jun 18, 2014 - Jun 22, 2014

VenueCentral Public Library

Ticket PriceS$30.00
 (excludes booking fee)