Don’t let Shakespeare know!

marina tan

IT’s the year of Shakespeare the world over. The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre is one such company marking the Bard’s 400th death anniversary with a slew of productions which began with Marble Hearts in January.

Actors Studio Teater Rakyat and KLpac is offering 10-minute excerpts from the Bard’s works in “Don’t Let Shakespeare Know”.

Seven theatre directors — Azov Sim, Easee Gan, Giant Liang, Marina Tan, Mon Lim, Vincent Hau and William Yap — have dissected the Bard’s scripts to construct seven, 10-minute short plays. The language will be a mixture of English, Chinese and Malay targeted at audiences of any age.

Marina made her theatre debut as writer and director in 2009 with Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa at Istana Budaya’s amphitheatre. It won the Boh Cameronian Audience Choice Award in 2010.

She is offering Margaret of Anjou. Says the actor-director who will perform her own play: “The piece is Margaret sharing “her story” – reclaiming Shakespeare’s words, as it were, from the artistic licence (and Tudor-pleasing propaganda!) which he took with the details and alleged motivations of her actions.

“It offers highlights/moments from her life as a French princess brought to England to marry the young English king; toys with some rumours about her; birth of her child; and the politics which permeated her life. As a “French import”, she didn’t try to increase the stakes of France, but instead threw herself into the cause of her husband’s (and son’s) family. And when she was back in France, it was Englishmen who fell out with each other and wooed her back into the war — but it’s very convenient to give the foreign woman labels!

“I’m using some speeches from Henry VI and Richard III, as well as Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Henry V, with Margaret as Narrator providing the transitions.”

She says the original inspiration came from the fact that Margaret is featured in a few of Shakespeare’s plays — Henry VI parts I, II, and III, as well as Richard III.

“She is often overlooked as a female character — people tend to talk about the more famous roles such as Juliet,  Lady Macbeth, Portia (from Merchant), and Kate (from Taming). Maybe because Margaret is featured in Shakespeare’s History plays, and those are less well known? But she’s got amazing moments in them!

“I drew a lot of information about her life from various sources, especially (but not only) John Abbott’s “Makers of History: Margaret of Anjou”. Her mother Isabella and grandmother Yolanda were women who refused to give up and made a great difference in the fates of their family and homelands.

“Not all this detail can make it in, obviously!  But it helped greatly in picking and choosing the points which I helped make her come to life.

“One of the things which fascinates me about history and stories is how the most widely accepted version is written by the victors, but the vanquished survivors often have their own take. Margaret is widely documented in English as “She-Wolf of France” – but I found a French plaque referring to her as “Heroine of the War of the Roses”.”

Nominated at last year’s Cammies for Best Supporting Actor, Marina says she has spent the last few years “struggling with” her craft as an actor.

” It’s true I’ve done some directing before as well, but far less frequently, and in truth it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve been comfortable saying that I have emerging directorial instincts, which I am now working on.

“I’m not at the point where I feel an either-or identity at the moment. First and foremost, maybe I’m a storyteller.”

And surely that’s part of the appeal of the Bard’s works, as his tales still make for interesting theatrical and cinematic fodder.

For Marina, Shakespeare’s continued appeal lies in his observation of humanity. “For me, the world he wrote in may have been a specific time with specific conventions for male and female characters (and only male actors – so young female roles were often played by the younger, less experienced male actors).

“BUT our world today is such that societal / workplace roles are a lot less gender-restrictive, so I find it very fulfilling to empathise with his characters’ struggles from a humanistic point of view.

“For a playwright to consider people’s needs, wants, and motivations 400 years ago was quite amazing. And our society clearly still has so much insight and understanding that we need to gain from, and share with, each other.

“His scenes and monologues are great for dissecting human interaction, playwriting (including pacing), thinking/analysing arguments, and acting.”

Marina, 42, enjoys Shakespeare. “I don’t think it’s a judgment on anyone if they have never been exposed to his works, or don’t know/care what the big deal is. But I’m very much an enthusiast/sometime user of his works, and I’m very keen on sharing something that’s helped my outlook and my acting.”

KLpac’s senior production manager Easee Gan (or Gan Eng Cheng ) has chosen to direct an adaptation from The Tempest, the last play that Shakespeare wrote. His play is in Mandarin.

“I picked The Tempest because it’s a beautiful play with multiple themes – magic, passion, stupidity, treachery and revenge. This play inspires many artistes not only in theatre and literature, but also visual arts. It is even said Beethoven were inspired by this play when he composed piano sonata No. 17.

Gan, whose career in theatre began in 2010 when he interned at KLpac, says “The Tempest” is a reminder about Shakespeare and Malaysia. “Tempest is a dialogue between me and my lovely Malaysia and me as a Malaysian.

“The beauty of the language, the characters and the stories Shakespeare wrote are still relevant to the current situation today. Theatre is about life and humanity. We write stories about people, use them as tools to perform these stories and these stories are appreciated by us to help us understand ourselves better, appreciate our history and remind us of human’s fallibility and frailty as well.”

KLpac’s driving forces, Datin Faridah Merican and partner Joe Hasham, discussed the Shakespeare anniversary in 2014.

Says Faridah: “For us in the performing arts and for the entire English and non-English speaking world, Shakespeare’s works have been a part of our nurturing, our education and providing the necessary entertainment  from secondary schools to mature audiences.

“Even though in Malaysia, Shakespeare has not been taught much any more, every time there is a production of the Bard’s works, audiences will come, especially from the schools

“Dedicating a whole year means our audiences can choose to watch Shakespeare’s various works, including his sonnets.

“And the challenge is for The Actors Studio to work alongside directors and creators with the imagination to make Shakespeare’s writing much more accessible to almost everyone, especially the younger ones who may not have studied him. This is nothing new, of course, because we have tackled Shakespeare’s writings in this manner in the past.”

If you have in the past been frightened away by Shakespeare before, the ‘Don’t Let Shakespeare Know’ omnibus may titillate your tastebuds to know more.

Catch the play until April 3, 8.30pm with a 3pm matinee on Sunday. Tickets: RM45/RM35. Call klpac at 03-4047900 or visitwww.ticketpro.com.my.

** This story appeared in the New Straits Times.marina tan

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