Despite its many pitfalls, 2016 has given us such a brilliant collection of performance art it would be an almost fruitless (or at best, tedious) pursuit to try and rank them or pick definite favourites.
It was a year of the Shakespearean smorgasbord, celebrating 400 years of the bard, William Shakespeare, giving birth to so many adaptations and homages to the man from Stratford-upon-Avon. Interspersing all of that are also inspired original plays, elegiac and evocative experimental narratives alongside powerful interpretations of classics (some of them with a great Malaysian twist). At the same time, it would simply be lazy journalism to assume nothing stood out in competent artistry among all the others. Thus to commemorate a wonderful year, here are five plays we thought left a significant trail for others in the scene to follow.
Directed by Ghafir Akbar
Starring Sukania Venugopal, Zahim Albakri, Gavin Yap, Anitha Abdul Hamid & Farah Rani
A story of a linguist trying to document a dying language, which is only spoken by two people at loggerheads with each other – this sublime interpretation of Julia Cho’s story is truly an ode to simple storytelling carrying the spirit of a complicated theme. A play centered around communication yet manages to be accessible through its quaint element of romantic comedy, The Language Archive waves the proud flag of good theater, while strutting so much acting prowess and utilizing the tiniest of details to enrich its narrative. Definitely, one of the more stellar performances of the year.
Written by Duncan McMillan & Jonny Donahoe
Directed by Christopher Ling
Starring Qahar Aqilah
One of the most impactful stagings this year, this quasi-one-person show involving audience participation doubles as a very profound commentary on depression and suicide. Carried with tremendous grace and eloquence by Qahar Aqilah‘s acting – it was so good, it was essentially therapy. For a play to be this engaging to the audience and to talk about such a controversial matter in a clear, amicable manner, there was no way this wouldn’t have made the list.
Directed by Nawfal Zamri
Starring Han Zalini, Akmal Ahmad & Atiq Taki
A Malay-language adaptation of the short film The Alienist that was initially a short play performed at Short + Sweet Theatre, Kau Rasa? is a story of difficult decisions which leaves one contemplating about the morality of the death sentence. A riveting narrative of the human psyche channeled through a capable ensemble of young actors. This left an imprint on our minds not just because of the storytelling but also due to the seamless transposition from being a ten-minuter to a a 40-minute piece, making Kau Rasa? a suspenseful journey for the audience indeed.
Written by Joe Calarco | Directed by Jeff Kevin
Starring Arief Hamizan, Aaron Al-Fateh, Qahar Aqilah, Malik Taufiq
Subversive and audacious – two words that sum up this tale of youthful rebellion manifesting in the form of four students sneaking around the library to act out Romeo and Juliet. This staging deserves so much applause for having the courage to present an all-male cast to perform Romeo and Juliet in its entirety (yes, the whole thing). It goes beyond just being brash however. Joe Calarco‘s work is executed wonderfully through the direction of Jeff Kevin. Furthermore, with the clarity and resolution of actors like Arief Hamizan, a bard classic oft-adapted and staged, became a joy to behold.
Another play based upon the bard and his work, Shakespeare Demystified is a series of performances from Shakespeare’s catalogue done in a more instructional way with the intention of removing the heavy veil of incomprehension that seems to surround his pieces, especially to the younger audience. Their version of The Merchant of Venice puts the viewer at ease, as the actors bring you through the story with the help of narrators in explaining scenes. The issue that was placed under the magnifying glass in this performance was racism; told through the character of Shylock the Jew. It was done wonderfully, forcing the audience to think twice about a character initially stereotyped as a villain. Of course, this is projected through Shakespeare’s wonderful writing of Shylock’s popular monologue (also sometimes called “Do We Not Bleed”) which asks those who discriminate against him to consider how different was he to them, but with Shakespeare Demystified’s wonderful pedagogic approach, the question was brought to light with articulation. This combination of heavy themes that does not intimidate the viewer with its gravitas truly makes this play stand out among the rest as well.