I was part of a theatre show in klpac. Plot twist – we opened on GE14.

When it was announced that GE14 was to take place on the now-historic date of May 9th 2018, the cast and crew of Dato Seri were unsure what to feel or expect with the knowledge that our show runs on the same week.

As if the fear of forgetting our Bahasa Istana-laden lines was not enough, we were now cautioned on possible riots in addition to ensuring our safety at all times too.

May 9th 2018 (Dress Rehearsal night)- also voting day!

Blue fingers were not part of the wardrobe design

Most of us in the cast and crew had just returned from our polling areas. I myself had just traveled back from Kajang after waiting in my millenial Saluran for almost four hours. Admittedly, I almost gave up during my third hour, but thankfully I persevered and made a decision to miss our pre-show dinner and requested an extended calltime to ensure I could cast my first ever vote in before making the drive back to KLPAC, Sentul.

One can say that the staging of Dato Seri was apt and very coincidental with GE14, but with it came its own set of challenges. While we were busy creating this chaotic yet beautiful landscape of Pertiwi (the fictional setting of Dato Seri), our minds were still elsewhere. After each scene we would rush back to our dressing rooms and ask those backstage about which state was won by which party.

“Who is leading?”

“Pakatan Harapan? Are you sure?”

“Okay jap, I have to go for my next scene”

May 10th, 2018 (Opening night)

Unsurprisingly, our director had pointed out the lack of focus in our dress rehearsal and urged us to not let the events happening IRL influence the ‘high stakes’ nature of the play – It was our opening night for Dato Seri and we must not let our guard down.

Well, that was the plan.

Meanwhile, Malaysia was still in limbo, patiently waiting to find out whether the Agong will ever meet Tun Mahathir in Istana Negara.

“Are you telling me Malaysian timing applies to the Agong too?”

And then, something magical happened that night.

To those who have attended any KLPAC shows in recent years, you would be aware of the pre-show announcement that requests the audience to stand up to sing “Negaraku’ beforehand. Usually, this request is met with baffled murmurs and, to some extent, cynical amusement as well. But that night, the moment Joe’s voice finished saying “- please stand up for the national anthem”, it was met with audible excitement.

Though we were hidden behind the thick black curtains backstage, the cast and crew could sense the electric energy that permeated Pentas 2. I have never heard an audience sing Negaraku with so much passion and, truthfully, I had to stop myself from tearing up because it was such a powerful moment –  I could not see it, but I could hear it and feel it: the Rakyat were so proud to sing Negaraku. T

There was renewed meaning to the lyrics that included the line “Rakyat hidup, Bersatu dan Maju” and upon completion, the audience clapped and cheered at this new sense of pride in light of the political revolution that was taking place not too far from our little theatre space. The sentiment game was so strong that night.

The pre-show Negaraku became my favourite moment every night, with each audience being more and more excited to sing Negaraku (on our second show night, some audience could even be heard saying “Yes!” when the announcement was made).

And then it happened.

It was 9.30 PM, almost the end of intermission when suddenly, random cheering was heard. First, it was just one person, then another, then the entirety of Pentas 2. It didn’t take us long to realise it had happened: Tun Mahathir had been officially sworn in as the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia, ending the 60 year rule of the coalition party, or as it is called now, the Opposition Party.

Audience member, Aida Azmi captured the moment at Pentas 2 when Tun M was sworn in.

It was terribly surreal and all we could do was cheer and shout from backstage, that is of course, until our stage manager, Benedict had to intervene to remind us that we are going on stage in 2 minutes. Oh yes, we had forgotten we still had a show to put on. Our characters were supposed to be in the middle of Darurat (the Emergency period) but we were all still reacting to the announcement of Malaysia’s new government.

Playwright and director of Dato Seri, Omar Ali shared his thoughts on that particular moment:

“That was a really crazy night. It was supposed to be a very intense moment in the show, with the great dictator or tyrant now being in power. However, it was the complete opposite with the energy that was caused by Tun M being sworn in just minutes before. There was so much relief and ease and I thought it impossible for the actors to ride over because the audience was in the mood to laugh and celebrate.”

Art imitating life, or…

As each day passed and stories about the previous administration started to unfold, the audience reception to Dato Seri also became more nuanced. Sometimes, the cast would come backstage and wonder why certain lines had received any/more reaction when it had not the days before.

For example, during a tense moment when it was announced that Raja Jayaputera had been murdered, the two Princes, Tengku Mahkota and Tengku Muda would share a moment of grief followed by a discussion of their next steps.

“Are you copying my style bruh? “

On our third show however, this scene caused a bout of laughter in the audience. A comedy fan myself, I could not identify why the audience found this particular moment so amusing (was it the rule of thirds, on the third night?!). It would later dawn on us that the reason why is because Tengku Muda would suggest that the brothers flee to Seberang & Kalimantan (in Indonesia), and it just so happens that news had broke earlier that day that our ex Prime Minister and First Lady were attempting similar travel plans.

Lead actress, Nadia Aqilah who played Datin Seri shared this on the unpredictable nature of the audience reception,

“I have learnt a lot from this play, and it has been interesting to see how I had to handle the random energy each night. But, I am lucky as well because there was a focus on Datin Seri’s character too, perhaps because she reminds them of someone.”

As a member of the cast, it has been such a curious experience for me to be part of a play like Dato Seri with the backdrop of GE14. Each night, I caught myself catching more parallels between what was happening in the play with what was coming into light in the real world *cough Tiga Nasib cough Bomoh cough*

TFW you find out the RAHMAN prophecy came true

“In terms of parallels, there is plenty. It makes the play tick, makes it so true to life and so relevant” said Dato Dr. Faridah Merican, who reprised her role as Bomoh and Doktor yet again alongside Ho Lee Ching and Mark Beau. “Dato Seri was current two years ago when we first staged it, due to the fear of what was happening to the country. And it is still so current now”.

Lead actor Redza Minhat, who played the titular character of Dato Seri, had this to say on what he resonated most with in this experience,

“I resonated most with the ending of the play, whereby it is the repetition of a cycle. Dato Seri would enter the play saying ‘Tak pernah ku lihat hari macam ‘ni; Terang gelap, baik buruk, datang sekali’ and this is repeated by the newly crowned King, Tengku Mahkota at the end of the play.

To me, with the current political climate, it is great that we have this new dawn for our country but we have to be careful to note that everything is a cycle”.

Wow, so emo.

Anyways, that’s that! Personally I am excited for what this means for the future of the performing arts, and I look forward to more exciting and bold productions in the coming months and year (PS. I am free for casting should anyone be inclined).

Hidup Teater Malaysia!

 

We forced a theatre newbie to watch Malay Macbeth. Here’s her review

HI! I’m Ka Vei, currently 23 years old, and just started my postgraduate masters a few months back. Unlike my studies, I know next to nothing about theatre. I have only ever been to two plays, first one was Lo Mio and Chu Liet a few years ago, and ‘The Bee’ a few months back. 

I made sure both shows were in English because I’m a banana and cant pick up Chinese well, but I also stammer a lot trying to speak in Malay. One time I went to the bank to pick up my SISWA card, and I told the clerk ‘saya nak kutip card’, and the guy just stared at me, trying not to laugh. He later told his colleague and they both had a good laugh anyway.

I’m not telling you this to highlight my banana-ness, but because I got asked to review a play called Dato Seri. I was a little worried about not understanding it because :

  1. Dato Seri is a Malay adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, performed in Malay – I know absolutely nothing about Macbeth aside from the fact that it was a famous Shakespeare play.
  2. The editor didn’t allow me to research it beforehand (sadist), so I spent the past week wondering if Macbeth was a guy or a girl.
  3. My friend had watched Dato’ Seri a day before me and told me to expect Bahasa Istana*gulp*

But after watching it, I frankly quite enjoyed myself. So here’s my review:

The Poster and the Title

The poster was straightforward – a male and a female character whom I assume are the main characters in the play (Dato’ and Datin Seri?). The red keris in the middle reaffirmed the traditional malay setting of the show.

The Show Itself

The play follows a war hero named Dato’ DiKajang, who encounters three witches with a prophecy that he will one day be King of the land, Pertiwi.

When he returns home, he’s promoted to the title of ‘Dato’ Seri’ by the King, who decrees that the crown prince would be the next Prime Minister. The greed for power soon consumes DiKajang and his wife, and they both plot to kill the King and frame the guards.

Once he becomes king, it all goes downhill…. He becomes a tyrant, suspicious of betrayal by his subordinates, pillaging and burning villages, killing families, and all that tyrant-y stuff.

At the same time, his wife grows demented; suffering agonizing guilt over killing the king. In the end… well, no spoilers from me but let’s just say that many people following the country’s political developments may see some parallels. 

Highlight(s) of the Show

For me, the highlight of the show was definitely watching the three witches (I think they were called the Fates) play their role in the story.

I felt that the actors who played the witches did an amazing job. I was creeped out but still enjoyed the way they spoke and cackled. They really seemed like something out of this world. They actually reminded me a lot of the Fates in Disney’s Hercules; you know those three witches in black cloaks who share one singular eye… yea that one.

Also, this play might give you high school nostalgia. Because nearing the end of the play, DiKajang recites Shakespeare’s Life Brief Candle: ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow…’ but in BM. In my head, I was like ‘oooohhhh, so that’s where the poem came from…’

General Thoughts and Observations

The storyline was not difficult to follow, it really grabs your attention with good actors who really know how to set the mood. I was mostly thankful for the English subtitles that were provided on a small screen above the set (but sit on the right side of the audience seats if you plan to rely heavily on the subtitles like me).

For an intense play about murder and power grabbing, Dato’ Seri also sneaks in some humour although there were times where the audiences would be laughing at something someone says, and I would sit there wondering what they were laughing about. What I’m trying to say is that the play is definitely worth watching, but you would definitely enjoy it much more if you could keep up with the Malay instead of relying on the English subtitles.

Overall Rating

I’d give this play a 9 out of 10. I really really liked the play, and I would recommend anyone to go for it when they have a chance.

How to get tickets

Unfortunately, tickets for Dato’ Seri running from 10th May to 13th May 2018 were sold out. And by the time you read this, the play would have ended it’s way-too-short run.

But don’t fret! You can check KLPAC’s website for other shows. Alternatively, call the Klpac Box Office at +603-4047 9000 to ask what else is currently showing.