Review: Projek Suitcase by Teater Ekamatra
Teater Ekamatra’s annual monologue festival is back! Projek Suitcase isn’t just people standing around delivering lines though; it’s uniting artists from all kinds of disciplines, from sound designers to film makers, from actors to bharathanatyam dancers. This year, they’ve departed from simply uniting Malay artists to becoming all-inclusive and multi-disciplinary, regardless of race, language or religion. There were also some very familiar faces involved, from musician Bani Haykal to YouTube celebrity Hirzi Zulkiflie.
This edition of Projek Suitcase features eight new monologues performed by artist-pairs, all inspired by Franz Kafka’s seminal novella The Metamorphosis, which sees a man waking up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. But instead of the tragic and melancholy elements of the novella, Teater Ekamatra aims to instead focus on using the power of individualism to find strength in change and transformation.
These monologues deal with pressing current affairs such as race, migrants and identity, and the eight artist-pairs promise an exciting and thoughtful evening reflecting on our complex issues faced as Singaporeans. This year’s edition of Projek Suitcase will show all eight monologues every evening, with 2 performances every 30 mins from 8pm, with the introduction starting at 7.30pm. However, you can only catch a maximum of 4 plays per day, due to the way the performances are scheduled, so to catch all 8, you’d need to get the 2 day tickets. Although some of the plays will be in Malay, a booklet with an English translation will be provided, allowing you to follow each story more closely.
Coming down to Projek Suitcase tonight was truly an experience to remember. The monologues we saw were heartfelt, tender and very real. Tonight at the opening, we managed to catch Kulit On The Go, Gli-mmer/tter, Cabut and Jump the Q. Starting off the performance we had an introduction by our two hosts who were dressed as professors, trying to sell their new quirky inventions at a flea market style space. They certainly woke the crowd up with their energy and got their mood going, explaining the origins of Projek Suitcase and how it worked.
Each of the four monologues we saw tonight had their own unique quirks that truly made them memorable. Starting off with Baba Richard Tan and Erwin Shah Ismail’s Kulit On The Go was a bold choice, with Erwin playing a leather craftsman trying to stay relevant and afloat in our fast paced shopping industry. Erwin sang an amusing song about cows and leather products with a ukulele in hand to start off before launching into the monologue, a multi-faceted performance that showed off his ability to do accents (an Ah Beng and cowboy amongst them), and Baba Richard Tan has certainly made full use of him with the monologue, even staging a scene to show how a cow was killed in a very inventive way. This was a really tightly directed performance, and one you’ll have to catch. Who knows, you might just walk away with a customized leather bracelet from this superstar.
In Ebi Shankara and Al-Matin Yatim’s Gli-mmer/tter, we follow the tale of a man who struggles to fit in to society and finding a glimmer of hope amidst all the pain and sacrifices. Taboo topics on racism, labels and social class disparity were woven intricately through the use of “colour”, all vividly translated in Al-Matin’s most spirited performance packed with nuances and deliberate audience involvement. Al-Matin’s delivery was spot-on, depicting the inner conflict individuals face when their desire is to be seen as one with everyone else. Speaking to Ebi before the show, he said Aliwal brought back a lot of memories, having started his acting career with Teater Ekamatra. When asked where he wanted to stage the monologue, he immediately answered “The Courtyard”, and for him, it was almost like coming home.
The third monologue was Cabut, by Elvira Homberg and Emanorwatty Salleh, discussing issues of lingering and staying on too long. Emanorwatty’s emotionally charged performance practically had her character’s life hanging out for all to see, drawing us close and leaving us deeply affected.
Finally, we ended the evening with Izzat Yusoff and Hirzi Zulkiflie’s Jumping the Q, in which Hirzi plays a suicidal man who finds out he cannot bring everything he wants to the afterlife in this dark comedy. Despite being known for his comedic characters on Youtube, Hirzi delivered an unexpectedly thoughtful side of him in his performance in playing a young, pensive adolescent who indulges in shooting scenic Instagram-worthy photos, while hiding an angry soul, rife with rage and exasperation when forced to leave behind a treasured memory. Although the script is dark, there are some lighter moments too, so get ready for surprises and prepare to glamour up as Hirzi begins taking pictures of random people in the crowd as he reminisces about life. Hirzi has potential beyond the comic, and we definitely look forward to seeing him in more dramatic roles in future.
Despite a humble beginning with just one actor and one suitcase in a poor theatre format in 2003, it’s since grown to become one of the highlights of each year from Teater Ekamatra. Projek Suitcase overall felt like a discovery of oneself and our perceptions towards life, its powerful, evocative pieces leaving you spellbound and in awe of the talents, use of environments and props and more than anything, the Aliwal Arts Centre’s space.
Considering that it’s not the most common location to stage performances, the festival was definitely an opportunity for attendees to learn more about the space and Teater Ekamatra. There’s a lot to unpack from this year’s edition of Projek Suitcase, but you can rest assured that whichever set of monologues you get, they’ll form one big memorable journey.
Projek Suitcase: Metamorphosis plays at Aliwal Arts Centre from till 4 Dec. Tickets available from www.projeksuitcase.com