Ageing and sexy are two words you’ll never expect to see in the same sentence, let alone a play. But the cast of Pioneer (Girls) Generation turned the idea of ageing as a lonely, arthritic process on its head with their production by The Necessary Stage. Set in a luxurious, upscale retirement village, Catherine Sng, Padma Sagaram, Irene Ong and Thomas Lim played four seniors whose comfortable retirement is jolted when the retirement village decides to jack up its rent. Oh, and did I mention they managed to squeeze in a little K-Pop amidst the drama? Sassy, independent and opinionated, these four friends redefined for the audience what it meant to be old in Singapore. No staying at home watching TV all day, thank you very much; these seniors brought the fun back to active ageing.
I watched The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel after watching this play and I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities. At its core, both were the kind of archetypal coming-of-age comedy; albeit with 70 being the new 17. The characters romanced each other, found their calling, and reflected on their own life as it approached its end. Both Pioneer Girls Generation and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may be pegged as comedies, but there was something moving and real about watching these seniors confront their impending mortality.
Yet somehow, ageing in real life (especially in Singapore) seems devoid of all that fun and glamour. We are living in a time where it’s taboo to make disparaging remarks about someone’s race or sexual orientation. Strangely, when it comes to age, no such taboos exist. Job applications from the elderly are routinely dismissed. When we see someone old working, we assume it’s because he or she desperately needs the money. We forget that our seniors, with their many years of experience, are more than capable of making their own decisions. And for better or for worse, the traditional notion of filial piety in Singapore is still that of adult children taking care of their elderly parents.
Subconsciously, this has led many of us to think that the elderly need to be cared for, or that they need someone to depend on.Truth is, loneliness is a very real issue that many seniors face and that the play attempted to address. Despite living in luxury in their retirement village, it was the companionship they have found in each other that the four characters treasured the most. In fact, it’s not so much the elderly needing to be cared for than them wanting to be cared for. Well-off and mobile, a growing number of seniors today are choosing to pursue their own interests and to make their own lifestyle choices. Yet, the disconnect many seniors feel from their children and grandchildren is something no amount of activities or classes can fill. Or for that matter, any number of Pioneer Generation Packages.
With the passing of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, I couldn’t help but feel that we have all that we have now because we stood on the shoulders of the early generations of Singaporeans. Just as how they patiently held our hand and taught us new things when we were young, let us now do the same for them. We don’t need a play on ageing to remind us to show the seniors in our midst some love and care.