Rapping innovation in old Malay tales

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A responsive audience who sighed at the heartfelt moments, laughed at the hilarity, and cheered the hijinks in Swordfish+Concubine lent incandescence to an already memorable staging.

The cast handling their multiple roles with seamless professionalism, turning a static set into scenes of electric form, in Kee Thuan Chye’s latest play.

Na’a Murad, Sandra Sodhy, Qahar Aqilah, Alfred Loh, Hana Nadira, Arief Hamizan, Amanda Ang, Bella Rahim, Gregory Sze, Iefiz Alaudin, Lam Ghooi Ket and child performer Joel Timothy Low should all take a well-deserved bow for their efforts in delivering fulsomely a play of wit and innovative theatrical elements.

They handled the fight scenes with silat strokes, the hip-hop movements and pathos of death with equal fervour.

The jesters, who acted as narrators of the tales, were played with gleeful intent by Bela Rahim and Iefiz Alaudin.

One is hardput to single any one actor for bouquets, for they performed without fumble and full-on emotive gear.

Kudos to the live gamelan music by Rhythm in Bronze, as it sent chomps of beat into action scenes and gentle thrums into interludes and romantic moments.

There were moments when the dialogue burgeoned with words of too much import, when you felt you had bitten a too-big chunk of something, dulling a few scenes with having to chew on the weighty bits.

These rare moments were when socio-political references like abuse of power, a castrated media and judiciary, and political innuendos of current situations, were thrown into the mix.

But, such moments were too few to dull the fun of this satire that has borrowed two tales from the annals of Sejarah Melayu.

The historical tales – Singapura Dilanggar Todak and a sultan’s favourite concubine being impaled — got a breath of new life into them with this staging. At its core is a covenant made between two ancient rulers, who calls for complete loyalty as long as the subjects are not put to shame. Are we sheep, subjects or citizens, was one concept that the director Kee weaved into this performance.

While the morals in the tales are timeless, it was the retelling of these stories with contemporary context that made it so riveting a sit-down. The rap was a doozie!

** This review appeared in most part in the New Straits Times.

** Pic courtesy of Kee Thuan Chye

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