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Lanang: An Interview with Hatch Theatrics

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From left: Nur Khairiyah, Hafidz Rahman, Faizal Abdullah

This April, Hatch Theatrics will be closing the latest chapter of their lives. The theatre company will be ending their two year residency with the Malay Heritage Centre with their 9th production, and will be presenting Hafidz Rahman’s Lanang. Prior to its premiere, we spoke to artistic director and Lanang director Faizal Abdullah, general manager Nur Khairiyah (Khai) and Lanang playwright Hafidz Rahman about the process leading up to Lanang and where Hatch might be going next.

So first off, why Lanang? Said Khai: “Hatch started off as an incubation platforms, with actors coming together to collaborate and create new things. The scene now is more vibrant than ever and so many youths are so eager to set up their companies and do new works, but in churning out so many new works, there are times companies neglect the process of letting shows breathe and incubate a little. During this two year residency process, we needed to stage two shows a year, and because Hafidz had already written Lanang, we thought it was a fitting end to see how we could adapt it and evolve it over the course of a year.”

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Lanang was actually written four years ago at Theatreworks’ 24-Hour Playwriting Competition in 2014. Interestingly enough, the play has come full circle, as the competition was coincidentally held at the Malay Heritage Centre that year. Of the winners, Lanang came out as joint runner up that year in the open category, with no first prize awarded.

Hafidz remembers breezing through the competition, having already come in with a story in mind and one that he was determined to finish at the end of the 24 hours. Said Hafidz: “When I write, I’m usually writing for myself, and the competition was easy because it was a story I’ve been wanting to tell for a long time. But upon revisiting it, I realise that it didn’t have a clear arc or climax, and rewriting it was all about finding the balance between staying true to what I initially wanted to write and making the story more compelling. It’s nice to see how the story has evolved, and the central meaning is still about grief, just that we’re now telling it in a different way.”
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Lanang was initially written as two monologues performed by mother Habsah and son Adi, but will now be presented as a full play with interactions, including a new grandmother character. Its title refers to the term by which the grandmother in the play refers to Adi, and translates to ‘boy’ in Javanese. Said Hafidz, reflecting on the script read Hatch held last April: “It felt like a waste not having the grandmother physically present when she’s mentioned so much in the monologues. The story transformed into one about the struggle about the family as a whole, and I learnt to be less verbose and find the beauty in silence during the rewriting process.”

Over the last few years, Hatch has been expanding rapidly, even getting a chance to present Hawa last year at the 2017 Brisbane Festival. Said Faizal: “Brisbane was a very eye-opening experience for all of us, particularly in seeing how foreign audiences would react to such a Singaporean play. We wondered if they’d get all the references, and were deciding whether to perform it in English or not. Ultimately, we decided to keep it as it was and just elaborate on terms using surtitles, because Hawa is a Singaporean play set in Singapore.”

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Dalifah Shahril and Nurijah Sahat. Photo Credit: Hatch Theatrics

Making up the cast of Lanang are veteran actresses Dalifah Shahril (who was recently nominated for a Life! Theatre Award) and Nurijah Sahat, with newcomer Muhammad Muazzam Amanah (Zam) rounding off the cast of three. Said Faizal: “Both Nurijah and Dalifah were one of our first choices for casting. Nurijah in particular has a really motherly onstage presence, having experienced her playing my mother in Drip last year. All three actors play off each other very well”

Hafidz adds: “Listening to the actors read my script out loud really helped me make sense of what I wanted to say. Nurijah herself is Javanese for example, and really took ownership of the script, asking me about her character’s arc and motivations, and even suggested more Javanese words for me to use. It became very pressurising and I had to ask my aunt for more words so I could keep up with her!”

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Nurijah Sahat and Zam. Photo Credit: Hatch Theatrics

On the changing landscape of Malay theatre, Faizal commented: “The scene is becoming increasingly vibrant, with plenty of young Malay practitioners emerging. But one of the biggest issues is that nowadays, we have a lot of work that isn’t memorable. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, there was a boom of good, critical Malay plays, like Noor Effendy Ibrahim’s Bilik Ahmad or Aidli ‘Alin’ Mosbit’s Ikan Cantik. These days, a lot of Malay theatre I watch, I come away wishing that these plays had more time to push themselves to their fullest potential. We should find a way for the youths to interact more with the veteran theatremakers, and learn to create personal stories that will still resonate with society and the community and stay relevant over the years.”

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From left: Nur Khairiyah, Hafidz Rahman, Faizal Abdullah

For now though, Hatch is simply focusing on making sure Lanang is a good show that will resonate with its audiences. Said Faizal: “I remember that Effendy once told me something I’ll always remember – to produce a piece of theatre in Singapore is very expensive, so everytime you stage something, it should be a good piece of work, and not just a suka suka project. Malay theatre does not have as much financial muscle as other scenes, but we have to still find ways to put up a good piece of work even with these constraints.”

Lanang plays at the Malay Heritage Centre from 5th – 7th April in Javanese and Malay with English surtitles. Tickets available from Hatch’s website

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