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Theatre Review: Best Of (M1 Singapore Fringe Festival) | 3.5/5

SINGAPORE — A woman walks in. She sits on a chair and spends an hour talking about her life. After which, she stands up and, just like that, walks off.

SINGAPORE — A woman walks in. She sits on a chair and spends an hour talking about her life. After which, she stands up and, just like that, walks off.

There’s the kind of storytelling that lights up fireworks and milks this communal moment for all its worth. Best Of, The Necessary Stage’s enjoyable one-woman show featuring Siti Khalijah Zainal, skips all of that and simply tells.

Here is a day in the life of a Malay woman that begins with a visit to prison and ends with a visit to a hospital — two places that hint at the possibility of something rather charged. And yet, instead of urgency, Best Of offers a sense of drifting. An interesting day presented with such normalcy, we follow the unnamed woman like an acquaintance-turned-confidante as she slowly and sometimes, almost randomly, reveals her life story. Past and present overlap, often abruptly, as she shares hilarious observations about MRT crowds and taxi drivers, and her school days at ITE Bedok, as well as more sombre details about her failed marriage and her mother’s illness.

Indeed, there’s lots of laughter to be had amid the occasional hushed moments—and it’s a balancing act that playwright Haresh Sharma succeeds in crafting and actress Siti manages to present with such ease. Director Alvin Tan’s presence seemingly disappears in this stripped-down world (with only a chair and a simple backdrop reminding one of a closed eyelid) where all is distilled into actor and word.

But this is no mere encounter with a very animated, witty and likable person. Despite some funny self-effacing moments, Siti’s character has a big chip on her shoulder — as a Malay woman, she is unable to get a divorce under the Syariah Court laws, which says that she must get the husband’s consent. There are also broader social issues brought up—such as stereotypes of Malays being “lazy” (to which she retorts with such clarity that having a different set of values and priorities does not mean these are less important).

All these are, perhaps, not new topics—but the overall levity of Best Of makes it more of a casual conversation. And sometimes, feeling like you’ve just willingly lent a listening ear to a random stranger is more than enough reward. A fruitful chance encounter for both parties.

Best Of runs until Jan 27 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets at S$30 from Sistic. For more details, visit www.singaporefringe.com.

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