Review: Angkat by Teater Ekamatra

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The word ‘angkat’in Malay, literally means to ‘carry’. In the context of Teater Ekamatra’s final show of 2017 of the same name, ‘angkat’ specifically refers to the concept of adoptive mothers (or ‘mak angkat’), and attempts to shed a light on these women’s own insecurities and relationships with their adoptive children. Conceptualised by Nabilah Said and written and devised by director Irfan Kasban, along with the Angkat cast, Angkat follows Salmah (Sahirrah Safit) a young ‘National Idol’ hopeful (a stand-in for reality TV singing competition Singapore Idol) as she attempts to negotiate her dreams of stardom with her own adoptive mother’s attempts to dissuade her, herself nursing a dark secret.

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Angkat’s key concerns brims with potential and food for thought, tackling issues of family, relationships, and modern portrayals of Islam. But like its set design of cardboard boxes stacked into pyramids and structures, Angkat had plenty of themes to unpack. There are some conversations and scenes that meander on, never quite coming to a satisfactory conclusion, while the ending of Angkat feels abrupt and unexpected, almost as if it might be missing a scene somewhere to tie it all together. 

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That being said, Angkat is anchored by a capable cast and creative team, who manage to create a distinctly ominous mood throughout that eats away at the audience as each scene plays out, helped also by Tini Aliman’s evocative sound design that ranges from angry, instrumental rock to quieter, poignant tracks. Particularly enjoyable scenes are the ones that take place in the National Idol recording studio, as Salmah faces her panel of ‘guides’ (Erwin Shah Ismail, Faizal Abdullah and Farez Najid) and they wear her down with increasingly personal questions that stray further and further from her raw talent. There is something painfully futile about attempting to resist them, as they suggest Salmah’s failure should she choose not to comply with their requests, echoing somewhat the recent expose of male Hollywood types coercing young starlets into sinister arms. Farez Najid in particular is incredibly convincing in his role of the ‘nice judge’, forging a tantalizingly believable mentor-student relationship with Salmah as he persuades her of securing more votes with an outfit she might initially have found too revealing.   

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However, it is Sahirrah Safit who is undoubtedly the star of Angkat, playing her ingenue role to perfection. Her lip syncing is impeccably rehearsed, and her frustration at her adoptive mother’s secrecy understandable. Playing her adoptive mother, Norsiah Ramly is the very image of a woman who’s seen it all, exasperated from chiding the mischievous children in her care at the orphanage, while her desperation to keep Salmah’s origins under wraps heartbreaking, putting on an angry front despite her fearful thoughts. Together, both Sahirrah and Norsiah form a very believable mother-daughter relationship, making the audience ultimately root for it to survive the strain Angkat puts them through.

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Angkat opens up plenty of room for discussion of the meaning of ‘real’ family and the difficulty of bringing up a child in today’s day and age, and ultimately, makes its final message clear: no matter where one ends up in life, it is still family that one returns to at the end of the day. 

Photo Credit: Teater Ekamatra

Performance attended 20/12/17

Angkat plays at the Malay Heritage Centre from 20th – 24th December. Tickets available from Teater Ekamatra

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