It is rare to see in short plays the confidence of voice found in Al Hafiz Sanusi’s new work, Sejarah-Ku. It is clear from the start that the authors have done more than their fair share of research into the tale of two Malaccan warriors and more interestingly, how difficult it is to ascertain its historicity.
Al Hafiz tells me Sejarah-Ku was first conceived four years ago at university. The playwright says it essentially went into dormancy until he revived it for Toy Factory’s new writing programme, The Wright Stuff. As a cast member dropped out earlier in the process, then-director Farez Najid stepped in to play Hang Tuah, one of the two legendary warriors. Taking over as director was Irfan Kasban, known for beautifully daring works such as 94:05 (Kakiseni Festival, 2013), in which a dying man of faith recounts his memories, and the politically charged Trees, a Crowd (Twenty-Something Theatre Festival, 2016)
This reshuffle seems to have paid off, with Farez Najid’s Hang Tuah and Salif Hardie’s Hang Jebat oozing charisma as the “warriors” acting out the English writer’s “documentation”. The play begins with the events of the tale drifting in and out of the recollection of documentation and sometimes confusingly, the process of documentation itself. This narrative structure takes a while to cement itself, given that the actors play multiple roles, some more often than others. Yet, this loose structure allows for several surprising interjections of silat (choreographed by Lian Sutton). The cast is smart, timing these silat movements to interact with little jolts of visual humour.
By the half-hour mark, you just about get used to the narrative grammar and start to appreciate the metaphorical points made by the play’s design – blank pieces of paper fill the room as indelible representations of a confused, or maybe even untraceable history. By now, the silat has made crumpled trails in the paper and brought the writer’s daughter (Farhana M. Noor) to exasperation. The writer (Jamil Schulze) himself wields his quill pen as a mythical kris, and the kris itself is nearly thrown an unseen body of water. The two warriors have now turned into reporters, pulling together gags that are jarring against the girl’s anguish. All these represent a visual sophistication that while exciting on its own, comes together way too speedily to have much weight.
That said, the play raises a number of interesting and valid questions: why do we commit ourselves a streamlined vision of history? Why is history a binary between the backstabber and the nobleman? Why do we desire an author of history? Why is that author white when history obviously isn’t? These questions help the play work on multiple levels, but one real issue is that the play is far too abbreviated for meaningful post-show supper talk. This is perhaps best summed up by a stunted image late in the play (not long after the half-hour mark) of the actors hastily picking up the pages strewn over the floor. A stunted image, but an exciting one, much like the others in the play.
By Edward Eng for Bakchormeeboy
Performance attended 1/8/17
Photo Credit: Toy Factory Facebook
The Wright Stuff’s four plays takes place across two weeks (24th July – 7th August) at NOWPlaying@17 (17A Smith Street, 058931), on the 2nd floor of a shop house along the Chinatown Food Street. Tickets to each individual play available from Toy Factory