Review: Lanang by Hatch Theatrics

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A woman’s will is put to the test when hit by the double whammy of divorce and death.
Grief is one of the most common topics covered in theatre, making it an increasingly difficult subject to portray in a new light. But with Hatch Theatrics’ latest production and final show of their residency at the Malay Heritage Centre, it’s a topic that feels fresh with Lanang’s dedication to realism and well written characters, making its central traumas hit hard and feel intensely personal with their portrayal.

First written by Hafidz Rahman for Theatreworks’ 24-Hour Playwriting Competition in 2014, in Lanang, Habsah (Dalifah Shahril) is a mother of three going through a divorce. Facing flak and gossip from the rest of her siblings, the only person she has left to rely on is her mother (Nurijah Sahat), choosing to lead a simple life with her and her sons while shutting the rest of her family out. But when her sole pillar of support passes, she begins to crack, falling into paranoia and delusion, and it’s all her eldest son Adi (Muhammad Muazzam ‘Zam’ Amanah) can do to try and bring her back to reality.

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Having recently been crowned Best Actress at the 2018 Life! Theatre Awards, Dalifah Shahril is without a doubt one of the strongest Malay actresses working in theatre today. Her character of Habsah is an incredibly relatable role that has potential to become one of the most iconic in local Malay theatre. Habsah may seem like a simple, stereotypical role at first, initially coming off as a woman of pure rage and frustration, a fiercely protective mother and makcik snapping at anyone and everyone who dares cross her, be it her nosy siblings or even her own son. But precisely because of how intense her facade is, when Dalifah finally unveils Habsah’s closely guarded vulnerable side, it serves as a powerful shock to the system and transforms her into one a much more complex character.

Dalifah’s portrayal keeps Habsah almost constantly on edge, anger and stress in her eyes and movements to the point that even a friendly massage becomes a source of intense pain, and watching her voice quaver and show signs of fear after the death of her mother is enough to leave us feeling her immense sense of loss, particularly in the relief she expresses when she begins to experience hallucinations of her dead mother coming to visit once more. The way Hafidz has written Habsah with such sincerity and brutal realism leaves us raw with her grief, and has fleshed her out as a fully realised human being.

 

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Dalifah is well supported by her co-stars Nurijah Sahat and Zam. Utterly charming and likeable, Nurijah is perhaps the dictionary definition of a typical grandmother, simultaneously naggy and loving in the way she chides both Habsah and Adi while also always ready with some spare money to give, allowing us to find relatability in her character and making her death feel all the more devastating. Although new to the scene, Zam infuses Adi with a distinct personality, balancing nomophobic millennial with filial son, and for anyone who shares a strong bond with their mothers, a completely familiar position. There’s a constant, keen sense of respect for each other and the sense that for all their flaws, there’s something that binds the three of them intensely together as a trinity, and when they come together and indulge in their shared love of Bollywood films, it’s impossible not to see the genuine joy that emanates from the three of them and their familial bond.

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It helps of course, that there is a realistic set put in place by director Faizal Abdullah and producer Nur Khairiyah to represent Habsah’s home, from a bunk bed for her sons to a living room filled with Bollywood DVDs neatly stacked in piles. Sound collaborator anGie seah is given her own performance space beside the set, surrounded by cardboard boxes and utilising everyday objects to create incidental music and atmosphere. Although for the most part simply to provide incidental sound effects, there are times her work becomes crucial to setting the mood, such as when she utilises a strained wail when Habsah’s mother passes, an impossibly mournful sound that expresses the shock and horror Habsah faces at the sudden loss.

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Lanang
may be simple in plot but incredibly rich in emotions, able to connect to audience members on a fundamentally human level in its unnerving and often all-too-real reactions to grief. Hatch Theatrics has come a long way with their residency, showcasing strong growth and ending it on a high note with a timeless, universal play that broke our hearts and cemented in us the true value of family.

Photo Credit: Hatch Theatrics

Performance attended 6/4/18

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