Local take on Shakespeare’s play struggles

mak flower

MARRYING the traditional folk theatre form of mak yong, right down to the Kelantanese dialect, to the text of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream proved a commendable effort by Norzizi Zulkifli.

It blended so well that the main actors had room to interject localised asides and jokes.

However, while this restaging of Mak Yong Titis Sakti was generally entertaining, the license taken by the ensemble to make the show their own may have led to an over-phrased first half of the show last Friday (Feb 9).

Presented by The Actors Studio (Seni Teater Rakyat) and held at the main auditorium of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, the dragged-out first half may have led to fewer people left in the hall for the rest of the performance.

But, that’s when things picked up on stage with Rosnan Rahman as the father of the lovestruck Hermia (in Shakespeare’s play) walking through the audience and asking all and sundry if they had seen his daughter who had run off with Lysander (aka Indera Putra in this mak yong play).

He brought wit to his comic role, even in English.

The versatile Rosnan, who has made his mark in mak yong as a pak yong, had honed his talents from his time at Universiti Sains Malaysia to Istana Budaya’s mak yong troupe.

While the first half began with the fascinating rituals of a mak yong show like the Menghadap Rebab and the opening prayer,  that enthralment soon petered away with the seeming endless repartees that had no meaningful input into the play’s tale.

However, it did allow the audience to admire the theatrical ability of Zamzuriah Zahari who brought gravitas to her role as the King of Fairies (Oberon), as well as the split role of Puck, played with comic agility by Asrulfaizal and Rosdeen.

The English text of Shakespeare was mainly through the characters of Indera Putera, played Elza Irdalynna Khairil Anwar, Iskandar Muda, by Safia Hanifah, who both made the narration enjoyably localised.

I found the costumes outstanding with the “flower” outfit quite imaginative.

The pace of the tale was moved by the musicians, though half hidden behind screens, and who cannot be faulted for their precision. However, jarring notes came from  the vocal backup who perhaps could have been better trained instead of singing in a monotone.

It didn’t help that the entire production seemed on a high-decibel level.

The stage setting was nicely done, with a ramp on the side for exits and entrances. But in most mak yong shows, the actors don’t have stage sets, thus relying on their talents to indicate comings and goings, over hill or lake.

Perhaps a more intimate setting may have led to a more enjoyable performance, given the obvious talents of the cast.

 ** This review appeared in print for the New Straits Times.

Cover pic courtesy of KLpac

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Filed under Arts, Theatre
Subhadra Devan

A journalist who has been writing about culture, arts and heritage since the 1980s. She is herself gobsmacked to have started the Sunday arts pages for English newspapers in Malaysia, in the new millennium. The passion for these genres rages on.

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