The community of Kg. Sg. Pening faces tumultuous times as they are forced to overcome an increasing crime rate, subpar infrastructures and the lack of a ketua kampung.
In terms of degree of importance, the election for a ketua kampung is second only to the great presidential election of the United States last year between Clinton & Trump, as a good leadership would be crucial in allaying the headaches of the people in the village. The choices of candidates for Kg. Sg. Pening are diverse. Choosing between them might be a hassle, so we would try as best as possible to facilitate any decision-making by explaining what each candidate brings to the table.
A Political Review
An upright and religious man, Ustaz Kamal brings more than just his piety to the community. His plans on creating a community garden for the kampung promises to provide a food source for those in need. Most of his manifesto revolves around environmental-friendly matters, such as a recycling program; which shows that he is more than just a man of the afterlife, but also a man of this Earth.
A woman with experience in the political arena, Puan Robekah brings representation and empowerment to the community of Kg. Sg. Pening with initiatives that trains women to become leaders and gives space to housewives to come together and participate in activities. Puan Robekah also cares for welfare, as she plans to establish soup kitchens for the needy.
Idayu is a true blue cosmetic businesswoman with intentions in inculcating job skills upon the youth to better prepare them for the working world, in turn helping the unemployment problem in the village. She also plans to organize a community watch, Rukun Tetangga-style, where the allowance will be paid for and food will be complimentary of her father’s keropok lekor business.
Another man of politics, Dato’ Rusli considers himself as an ambassador for the state government, gaslighting for his day-job as a business tycoon. His plans are grand, from the construction of a mall to stimulate the economy, to building a whole new bridge to replace the one being blocked. Packed with charisma and pizzazz, Dato’ Rosli is capable of charming people with his aura of intellect and action, but will that lead him to winning the ketua kampung position? Your guess is as good as ours.
A young face in the election, Asyraf speaks from a place of understanding rather than experience, as he is only 24-years-old. His manifesto in turn, resonates the most with the youth, from the creation of an education centre (that is free) to free WiFi. His candidacy would be the most suspicious as the only qualification he has is a degree in architecture in UiTM. Unless he can build a new hope for the village, not much trust can be placed upon him except for holding him to his words.
The future of Kg. Sg. Pening might change drastically according to the candidate that wins. Will crime rates ever decrease? Is doom inevitable for this little village regardless of leadership? Will Cik Idayu’s business be compromised if she loses this election? Where did Dato’ Rosli get his datukship? Whatever strikes the humble village, is entirely in the hands of the community’s vote.
The Actual Review
And in Teater Mesyuarakat Kampung, you are the community. You are the determinant of what befalls Kg. Sg. Pening – this fictional village filled with hi-jinks and surprises at every corner.
A production by Produksi Rumah Cantik, this immersive theatre is directed and written by Shufitri Shukardi and Nour Amir, and has a different ending depending on who the audience votes for (since there were 5 candidates, there were 5 separate endings). Inspired by plays such as Fun at the Funeral, the actors do not only consist of the candidates that we vote for, but also include seemingly “random” members of the audience that could be sitting next to you, and also the MC, played with level-headed but entertaining flamboyance, as he moderates the crowd and ensures everything runs smoothly.
“The hardest thing to develop is to learn to adapt to the audience”, remarked Maya Zaharuddin, the person who played Puan Robekah. “As an actor, you need to be ten steps ahead of the audience”, claims Shufitri when asked about how these actors prepare themselves for any happenstance.
In terms of how the actors evolve according to circumstance, all of them do it very well to say the least. Whether it was reacting to an audience asking random questions to the candidate, or even having to mold themselves around the prospect of an audience member volunteering themselves as a nominee for the title ketua kampung. “All we had to do was to pretend to look at the rules (of being a ketua kampung on Google)”, said Shufitri, “and then we tell them they don’t qualify, because they need to be a permanent resident living in the area (bermastautin)”. Although it was choppy at parts (crowd control in a theatre is never easy, especially when the audience is supposed to be a part of the act), never once did the actors came off as empty props in the audience. All of them sufficiently passed as natural characters, belonging to a community desperate for a leadership whilst waiting for teatime to begin.
Adaptation aside, there is also a matter of character that needs to be talked about too. Most immersive theatre strive to push ‘believability’ beyond the realm of stage-aided realism; thus how believable a character is needs to be calculated within the context of what the theatre wants to achieve. “It’s a devised theatre, where each individual actor gives their own interpretation of their role as well, so it’s interesting to see what comes out of that”, said Nour Amir.
True enough, it was intriguing. Each of the candidates represented a certain stereotype that can be found in a local community (especially during election time). Puan Robekah is an amazing rendition of the ‘Wanita UMNO’ archetype (with a more accurate slant towards what female empowerment means), Dato’ Rosli, your typical big-talking politician and Cik Idayu shamelessly plugging her product in the campaign is reminiscent of your run-of-the-mill Dato’ Vida types. The only gripe we might have is that, if this theatre seeks to explore societal behaviours when it comes to democratic decision, is that they don’t push the archetype far enough. A good example of this is how Ustaz Kamal doesn’t seem to use his religious background at all in his manifesto, which would be a definite selling point to a community like that.
During our viewing, the candidate that won was Asyraf. After the vote counting (interspersed by a performer that kept the audience occupied, but honestly was not paid much attention to) and the congratulatory speech, the audience was brought to the back of the theatre to have actual tea and kuih. Lulled by the illusion that the play was over, the audience was brought into a shock as a group of people came in with guns and masks to rob the villagers. We find out later on that Asyraf is the head of the crooks responsible for all the crime that happened in Kg. Sg. Pening. All of this came abruptly, and was not without its problem of pacing, but still drove us intrigued as to what could have happened if we chose another candidate.
Teater Mesyuarat Kampung is filled with many charming details to keep the realism going. Cars blocking the way being used as announcement pieces, blackouts in the community hall kept viewers attached to the fact that they were in a semi-neglected village that no one cares about. Despite the small enjoyments, it doesn’t stop Mesyuarat Kampung for being a very safe piece, and entirely glosses over what could be a potential for true social commentary. That being said, although the usage of immersion is clumsy at times, Mesyuarat Kampung is a wonderful little promise that one can do a lot more with the medium to tell a story.
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