Over the last few months, Hatch Theatrics crafted Cari Makan as part of their pioneer Arts Incubation Residency with the Malay Heritage Centre, truly going back to basics and taking inspiration from tradition.
Cari Makan refers to a Malay expression that literally translates to ‘finding food’, which means ‘to earn a living’. First time playwright Nadia Cheriyan wanted to shed light on the forgotten occupations of Malay culture, such as the Bomoh (witch doctor), midwife and circumcision specialist, which are often erroneously described as ‘backwards’ and ‘outdated’. Nadia Cheriyan didn’t want them to end up lost to history, and did a massive amount of research in preparation, and that effort has paid off.
The audience is first introduced to Lara (Gene Sha Rudyn), a storyteller who narrates the tale of midwife Sarah (Sabrina Annarhar, and later Suhaili Safari) and her husband (Also Gene), the village circumcision specialist. As a midwife, Sarah may deliver babies, but has trouble conceiving one of her own, leaving her feeling unfulfilled and with a deep yearning for something more. The couple goes through all ways and means to conceive, and the audience is swept up in a whirlwind journey of Sarah’s tumultuous life.
Watching Cari Makan was a great introduction to traditional Malay occupations, and the play possessed a wealth of information for anyone interested in getting to know Malay culture better. Choosing to stage it at the Malay Heritage Centre was also completely appropriate, and set designer A. Syadiq has crafted a simple yet evocative traditional Malay village that really set the mood, enhanced with Tan Jia Hui’s humble costumes. Not to mention, the strong performance of the actors really anchored the mood, with particular attention to Gene Sha Rudyn, who managed to juggle playing five different characters, accurately depicting and differentiating each one.
Under the direction of Faizal Abdullah, the cast did a great job of bringing the past to life and showing how a single woman is willing to give up everything to have a child of her own. After trying all ways and means of traditional conception, Sarah finally goes to her last resort: consulting a Bomoh, despite the dark arts completely going against Islamic beliefs. The Bomoh scene was done very well, with the performance bringing the audience through the entire process. Kudos to lighting designer Alberta Wileo for making full use of the limited light in the small space to create the right atmosphere, bringing out the darkness and foreboding aspects of the ritual.
Suhaili Safari is brilliant as Sarah, who portrays just the right mix of fear and desperation in approaching the Bomoh. Over the long process of the ritual, even small details like changing the scent of the incense sticks to signify a new part of the process were portrayed, really making you feel like a witness to an actual ritual. Sometimes when all hope appears lost, you’ll take any chance you can get, no matter how impossible it seems, just for a shot at happiness. So even as Sarah’s last hope dwindles further and further, it’s all she can do to hold on tightly to it or face the absolute emptiness in her life once more.
With the intuitive, informative and evocative script from promising talent Nadia Cheriyan, Hatch Theatrics has proven that just because something is old, doesn’t mean it can’t be presented in an exciting light. A job well done and here’s to hoping to even more great works from the Malay Heritage Centre’s Arts Incubation Programme!
Cari Makan plays at the Malay Heritage Centre until November 26. Tickets available from Hatch’s website.