Review: ‘Tender Submission’ delves deep into the heart of faith and marriage

, Review: ‘Tender Submission’ delves deep into the heart of faith and marriage

Lucas Ho’s third full-length play and Checkpoint Theatre’s newest production, we couldn’t resist attending Tender Submission, staged at Drama Centre Black Box in a striking one-scene drama.

The stars of the show – and, in fact, its only actors – are married couple David (Lim Kay Siu) and Catherine (Neo Swee Lin), awaiting an important vote in the soundproof cry room of their Christian church.

, Review: ‘Tender Submission’ delves deep into the heart of faith and marriage

Married for 30 years, the couple bickers and spars as they sit and wait restlessly, at times reminiscing the years spent building a family and raising their daughter, and at times resenting each other, old grudges coming to light.

Their conversation covers extensive ground, but no matter how they digress, faith remains the focal point, always the key to their concerns, from friends they disapprove of and questionable church leadership to gender roles and the correct approach to proselytisation.

As they wait, husband and wife soon realise that decades of marriage have not brought them closer but pulled them further apart, their relationship seeming to unravel in front of their eyes as their differences emerge.

, Review: ‘Tender Submission’ delves deep into the heart of faith and marriage

Time and time again, they circle back to the impending vote, the key event that sets the scene for Ho’s production in the cry room. This vote stands to determine the future of Catherine’s community work, having submitted the tender for a public space to engage with the community and help people in need.

While Catherine’s heart aches at the prospect of things not working out, David doesn’t see the value in her work, dismissive and concerned only with her lack of preaching and the fact her work doesn’t lead to any real conversions for the church.

It feels bittersweet to watch them come to this conclusion, at first standing their ground in anger and frustration and then circling each other with hesitant affection—if they cannot seem to reconcile their purpose, what, then, holds their marriage together?

There’s a palpable rawness to the acting, which becomes even more endearing with the knowledge that the couple is married in real life too. The complexity of the characters is brought to life by a skilled performance that speaks of decades on the stage and true chemistry between the veteran performers.

The play itself kindles compassion with its careful pacing and precise dialogue, the characters unlikable, flawed and deeply human in their vulnerability.

The outcome of the vote is left hanging in the air as the couple sits with everything they have learned about each other and what this might mean for the future of their marriage. After passionate accusations and implosions of temper, this quiet settling feels true to life – a kind of resignation to an uneasy sense of comfort, marked by a renewed sense of uncertainty that’s once again pushed aside.

Touching and indeed brimming with tenderness, Tender Submission is an emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t vilify nor ridicule – instead, it simply invites us to witness and empathise, laying bare the complexities of faith, love and devotion.

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