Aiseyman! Teater Ekamatra’s Kuih Tart is sedap siol!


Editor’s Note: This is a review of the play Tart which was staged at 5ive by Teater Ekamatra. This is a contribution by our resident art critic.

For a graduate showcase under Teater Ekamatra’s Playwright – Director Mentorship Programme, Nabilah Said's Tart was a certainly a delicious visual treat with a lingering aftertaste which provided much food for thought.

The play centers around 3 close friends who had drifted apart over the years, but meets up again to make kuih tart together. Marina (Tini Aliman) is a conservative housewife who started wearing the tudung after marriage and gave up her ambitions to take care of the household. Shiq (Umi Kalthum) is a successful real estate agent who dons the tudung as a marketing tactic to appeal to the Malay Muslim clientele base. Nurhuda (Nessa Anwar) prides herself as a modern Muslim woman who seeks to prove her worth, in a culture of stereotypes and discrimination, in the civil service.

On the surface, differences in personality and values between the 3 women seem to be heating up the kitchen; Marina disapproves of Nurhuda's liberal appearance (sleeveless top, tight pencil skirt) and lifestyle, while Shiq gets increasingly frustrated as Marina tries to broach a sensitive issue from their past. But as the play progresses, flashbacks of the past provide hints to the source of the conflict and what has been eating away at their conscience - the suicide of their good friend Ifah, 10 years ago.

Towards their dead friend, all 3 women felt a sense of guilt and responsibility for not being able to save her from taking her own life. Marina had reproached Ifah for her immoral behaviour of getting pregnant out of wedlock and encouraged her to marry her boyfriend, who was later revealed to be Nurhuda's brother. On the other hand, Nurhuda had advised Ifah against getting married, or even keeping the baby, because she feared that her brother's scholarship would be revoked. Shiq, who had been getting sick and tired of dealing with Ifah's problems, refused to pick up the latter's call, which was the last called made before she killed herself.

As the raw ingredients slowly bake in the hot oven to form a giant kuih tart, the friends slowly come to terms with the taboo issue of suicide and reconcile their friendship with each other.

From the script, to the set and props, credit should go to the directors and crew for their attention to detail. Before the play started, the crew had cooked a pot of pineapple jam so that the aroma of kuih tart greeted audiences as they walked into the room, instantly triggering our own memories and experience with the sweet confectionery.

The juxtaposition of conservative Muslim, moderate Muslim and liberal Muslim characters, through the subtle use of the hijab, also serves to reflect the different segments within the Malay Muslim community and question what it means to be a Malay Muslim in Singapore today. Whether intentional or otherwise, references to conservative religious values, negative racial stereotypes dominated the undercurrent theme of the play. Kudos to the actresses for their realistic portrayal of these traits and their concerns associated with it, for it is often difficult to act out a stereotype without looking like a silly caricature of it.

Yet, at the end of the day, Tart isn't a play so much about race and religion, as it is about humanity, struggle, and redemption. Nabilah Said has certainly outdone herself with her latest offering, as she uses the act of making kuih, something which almost every Malay Muslim can identify with, to challenge and confront issues that are close to our hearts.


Sharifah H.