Me: Nat, shall we catch a play on Sunday, 3pm? It’s directed by Jo Kukathas and features Sharifah Amani! And they’re working with Singaporeans on this too.
Ten minutes later…
Me: I’ve bought the tickets!”
Nat: Alright, how much is it?
Me: RM80 per ticket!
Nat: Wow, gee thanks for the heads up, Vern!
Me: So, are you free this Sunday afternoon? There’s a really interesting play going on.
Shira: Sure, I can check my schedule and let you know.
Me: Well, you have to be free. I bought you a ticket on your behalf already.
So that’s the prologue of how I cajoled two people to watch Another Country with me on Sunday, a play that features the collaboration between Malaysian and Singaporean directors (Jo Kukathas & Ivan Heng) and actors.
When we first entered the theatre, we were presented with a simple set – the floor divided into 3×3 squares that is symmetrically sized with the white screen that says “SINGAPURA” on it. Clearly, we would soon begin the show with an hour of history, hikayat and short stories of our neighbouring country.
The clever arrangement of having Malaysian actors Gafir Ahkbar, Sharifah Amani, Anne James, Alfred Loh and Iedil Putra taking the roles of Singaporeans continued to blur the lines of differences between us and our friends from the Lion City.
Lest we forget, both countries shared their roots until the fateful separation in 1965.
From the discovery of Temasek to the evolution of the Singlish language, our attention was glued to the collection of stories, poems and tributes that were brilliantly portrayed by our local actors, taking us on a roller-coaster ride of wonder, joy and melancholy. I felt connected to some of the scenes, whilst others, especially the tributes to their local iconic figures left me curious and interested to know more.
An hour later, the Singaporean actors took the stage to bring us on a tour of our own land – the Malaysian chapter. To be (embarrassingly) honest, I had the perception that it would probably be a bigger challenge for Singaporeans to accurately portray Malaysians, given the fact that the Malay language is not a priority in their country. But ten minutes into the second chapter with the likes of Lim Yu Beng, Gani Karim, Sharda Harrison, Janice Koh and Siti Khalijah Zainal – I had forgotten all about our differences once again.
Unlike the first part, the Malaysian chapter featured a random collection that was selected by the audience via a game of tikam-tikam, allowing us to choose the sequence of the plays. The staging and setting for this chapter was simple – minimalist at best. But do not let the lack of props and costume-changes fool you – the actors drew us in just as much with their provocative, raw and sometimes cheeky performance from the works of local writers Muhammad Haji Salleh, Beth Yahp, Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, and more.
The attention to detail in the entire play was amazing. From the clothing of the actors, however simple it may be, to the utilization of props and spaces or the lack thereof brought out the depth in every scene. Curators Alfian Sa’at & Leow Puay Tin did a great job with the selection and order of the stories – making us hold our breaths in deep concentration, swallow the lumps in our throat and roar with laughter like a good rojak medley.
By the end of the two hours, I found myself all worn out – but in a good way. Those were two solid hours of quality showcase of culture, art and talent that I wouldn’t trade the world for. I’ve always been a fan of the local art scene – and this play has just raised the bar and showed us what we are capable of as long as we are equipped with the right resources, attitude and mindset.
The play did not specifically solve the age-old questions of where Hainanese chicken rice was invented or who has the original Hokkien Mee – but believe me, once you have sat through the play you would probably realize that it doesn’t matter after all.
|| Another Country is showing at the Damansara Performing Arts Center from 4th to 14th June 2015, with tickets priced at RM80 each. They will also be performing in the Drama Centre Theatre Singapore from the 25 June to 11th July. Tickets are selling fast- catch it while you can – it’s worth every cent. Book them here.||
After the play we went for a cuppa while playing Scrabble (of which I lost to Shira by 16 points but Nat just couldn’t give two hoots whether EU is an acceptable word).
Nat: We need to do some grocery shopping – we’re running out of pang sai chua (toilet rolls). Let’s go to Tesco.
Shira: Yeah, I need to get some stuff home too.
Me: Wow, from a play, to Scrabble, to grocery shopping. We’re aging ever so gracefully.