May 11, 2007
1969: That was the year
I ventured to KL Performing Arts Centre last evening, a long time not having indulged in arts and theatre for the soul. The stage musical, based on a text by Beth Yahp, was an artistic enaction and story of a woman’s life in yes, that year – 1969.
It tells the story of “my mother”, as referred to by all actors on stage, in a clever reference to the lady prostitute who gives birth in a lonely, quiet ditch amidst racial riots. In a stunning show of artistic (sometimes a bit too artsy for me, but served well to flood my arts-deprived veins anyways) acrobatic jumps, dances, singing and clapping, the 7-strong cast connected the audience to two things: the poetic experience of her in labour, and the larger political landscape of ’69.
The sporadic movements and shouting monosyllables right from the beginning foretold a sense of chaos about to unfold. Angry, steel-like faces punctuated with forceful motions reminded one of the fury about to burst forth. Expressions of pain, frustration, that push and pull tide coming from the child within – all seemed to me symbolic of where the country was to be headed towards soon after.
Phrases were cleverly woven and spun as to be highly sarcastic and politically correct. Quoting from the famous Dr. Mahathir book “The Malay Dilemma” and Tun Dr. Ismail’s sayings of why he thought the NEP was originally implemented, the script was explicit in referring to racial tensions. It was a blatant mockery of some facts that the Government has always been referring to when speaking of that taboo-never-before-mentioned incident.
Some scenes were particularly hilarious. One with Tun Dr. M speaking in the most serious of tones and fierce intent, but hanging upside down instead, got me cracking. A subtle mockery (or not so subtle) of him speaking off the top of his head (pun intended) unbeknownst to his audience. All the singing scenes would make you laugh crazily, them taking on national songs sung for the sake of Malaysia and unity, and churning them into plastic-smiled propaganda material reminiscent of Russia’s Stalin days, 1984, China’s Communist agenda and Hitler’s TV documentaries preserving the blonde blue-eyed gene, all into one. Those sickly-sweet perfect songs raving about the importance of harmony, their distinct oblivion to reality on the ground – that was the impression the songs gave. Spot on.
All in all a pretty good way to spend a night, and a must-see for those who are borderline interested in politics. A good precursor to the launching of Kua Kia Soong’s book May 13th (to be launched this Sunday), which apparently (according to Malaysiakini anyway) draws on official records found only in London libraries to document the actual events of 1969. This presumes the official versions have not been entirely accurate, but I have yet to read for myself.
The musical itself although educational for some, seemed to me lacking in a climax. Individual acting was great, and they harmonised well in voice and physical action, but some voices on their own were not strong enough to carry beyond the first few rows, and the many breaks in between various “mini-climaxes” left the audience wanting more. It felt a little syncopated to me, although I understand the nature of theatre is not always to entertain Hollywood style, which I also appreciate. Warwick Arts Centre productions taught me that variety in stage play was a good thing, something to relish.
My criticism would be that it portrayed a very Chinese-skewed way of looking at 1969, which may be misinterpreted as being antagonistic. But I have to qualify that by acknowledging that it was based on a text – therefore no choice but to stick to it.
Left me wondering yet again where we are headed towards in this upcoming elections. But that’s a different story. Go watch it! RM40 at KL PAC.
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