Review: Hope (Harap) by Teater Ekamatra

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Hope (Harap) boasts a stellar cast, from Sani Hussin, to YouTube celebrity Hirzi Zulkiflie, to Apprentice star and rising stage presence Fir Rahman, as well as Siti Hajar Abd Gani and Nur Zakiah Bte Mohd Fared. Originally written by Haresh Sharma and performed in English in 1994, this 2017 version sees it translated into Malay by Zulfadli Rashid, and directed by Mohd Fared Jainal.

Primarily discussing the main theme of hope, or rather, the absence of it, Hope (Harap) follows two groups: the first, a family led by a heavy smoking, heavy drinking father Hairul (Sani Hussin) who messes up his family’s finances, and the second, two longtime friends dealing with the aftermath of a car accident, where one survives with few injuries (Hirzi Zulkiflie) while the other is rendered a vegetable, confined to a wheelchair (Fir Rahman). Emboldened by creative stagework in the form of projections of the cityscape, along with a haunting, evocative soundtrack from Bani Haykal, both sets of characters find themselves trapped in utterly hopeless situations, depressed and with no way out.

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Haresh Sharma’s script is often brutally honest and terrifyingly close to reality. In the family scenario, a particularly heartwrenching scene sees Hairul at the void deck, suddenly beset by a loanshark, who engages him in a well-choreographed struggle, before Hairul pleads and begs, completely at a loss, for more time to gather the money to return.

Upon reaching home, his daughter (Nur Zakiah Bte Mohd Fared) greets him with a smile and tells him to simply go and wash up, and Hairul comments that he’s blessed to have such a good daughter. Later on though, in the middle of the night, he sees her sobbing quietly in the living room, and realizes what a complete mess of things he’s made and the amount of harm he brings his family. Although he vows to make things better for his wife Izzadi (Siti Hajar Abd Gani) and his daughter, Haresh Sharma’s script does not promise a happy ending for the family, painting a disturbing and frightfully real portrait of what it means to borrow money and face such deep seated, inescapable problems in life, with Siti and Nur Zakiah’s performances really bringing out the hurt and grief brought upon the family by Hairul’s irresponsible behaviour.

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Equally dark is the scene between Fir and Hirzi, in a sequence that utilises The Necessary Stage’s signature brand of magic realism. While Hadi (Hirzi) begs for the vegetative and wheelchair bound Azman (Fir) to give some sign of life, Azman stands up and walks around the stage, representing his subconscious mind, and the two engage in a conversation that breaks the boundaries of reality, expressing their grief, pain and regret. Hirzi in particular, played his role to devastating perfection, bringing out his character’s grief arc very well, and the nuances that turned it from a good performance into a great performance, all the way up to the tragic ending.

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A play about the harsh truth of life and tackling the most taboo of topics, Hope (Harap) may hit uncomfortably close to real life, depicting some of the more unspoken problems that the media glosses over in the city’s continued, fast paced development, and the difficulty of finding hope when all seems loss.

It seems only appropriate then that at one point, Azman begins to take out pieces of clay, moulding new people and cities from it, essentially creating a new world as he talks about how all that’s needed to create life is mud and God. Perhaps for the characters of Hope (Harap), the only option left is to forge a new life somewhere else, in another life. Mohd Fared Jainal’s visionary direction and the cast’s strong, heartbreaking performances that really brought the script to life, Hope (Harap) remains is one of Haresh Sharma’s boldest and most eternal plays, still relevant today in 2017 and taking on a new slant with Mohd Fared Jainal’s translation, addressing the Malay community, yet remaining universally relatable.

Performance attended 6/4/17.

Hope (Harap) plays till 9 April at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets available here.

Photo Credit: Esplanade and Tuckys Photography

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