A critique on an education that system that often forgets the human beings it sacrifices in the pursuit of perfection, Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku has all the right intentions – but what of its execution?
Written by/Karya oleh Khairunazwan Rodzy and/dan Khairi Anwar
Directed by/Arahan oleh Christopher Ling
Featuring/Lakonan: Amirul Syakir, Andy Poon, Anwar Hadi, Arshad TMZ, Mawar Roseka, Tria Aziz
Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku is a play about a school recovering from its reputation of housing delinquents and mediocrity. With a new principal (played by Anwar Hadi), the school sets itself on a quest to obtain the coveted Sekolah Kluster Cemerlang title. This endeavour for the improvement of a school that has been suffering from disciplinary problems and less-than-satisfactory academic and extracurricular performances is assigned to the school’s strict but loving discipline teacher – Cikgu Ismail (Arshad TMZ).
True to the spirit of theatre in a New Malaysia, Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku engages the flaws of the education system through the stakeholders often affected directly it – the students, the teachers and the parents. Ironically however, Malaysia Baru notwithstanding, the script dissects a problem that is almost as old as time when it comes to the ‘Asian’ education system – an over-emphasis of rote learning and an almost industrial way of churning out workers as opposed to empathetic humans.
Ambitious is the intention, but for the most part Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku really feels like a whole slab of text imposed upon the audience. Although the motives of the characters are made clear, at times they feel like mouthpieces to a message as opposed to actual human beings. This is apparent in the Nerd + Greasers relationship between Daniel (Andy Poon) & Pak Kob (Amirul Syakir) that feels unnatural at times, as though constantly (and clumsily) alternating between baku speech and casual colloquialism. The jokes intended to probe the archetype of a Chinese and a Malay try so hard to be aggressive banter that it falls slightly short of the mark of being funny.
There are a few stereotype-defying moments that I cherish, such as preppy nerd Daniel secretly vaping outside of school and also quoting Hang Tuah like a friend of his in arguments with Pak Kob. The fact that nerd forms an alliance with the greasy school outlaw to beat the system is charming though, reminiscent of Hollywood movies like Whatever It Takes (2000).
Cikgu Ismail’s character has the potential of nuance – as the antihero fallen from grace seeking to redeem himself – but Arshad TMZ’s acting feels slightly stiff – barely capturing that emotional journey a disciplinarian go through in balancing his role as a disciplinarian and as a teacher whose always had empathy. Part of this has something to do with the writing and direction too.
Most of this vague background about Cikgu Ismail being a strict person who is warm at heart is only told to us by his wife Alia (Mawar Roseka) so there’s this huge impediment to my feeling empathetic for his character since no real interaction ever happens between Ismail and the students (except for that one scene where he tells Pak Kob *spoilers spoilers spoilers* that he’s expelled which was at a point in time where he was already a stonehearted, exhausted disciplinarian). It’s a possibility that it was made purposely vague to make us use our memories of tough discipline teachers in our schools that were actually really kind. This overreliance on audience interpretation and Alia’s dialogue, in my opinion, just obscures character development. Too much ‘tell’, and not enough ‘show’. This particular factor irks me the most considering that it is one of the most essential parts of Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku working as a play since we’re supposed to care about Cikgu Ismail.
There were still some gems of acting prowess, mostly in Tria Aziz’s portrayal as the mother to Pak Kob. Her mak cik mannerisms, the conversations she has with Alia and her moments of vulnerability were all beautifully conveyed. Principal Agus didn’t receive much spotlight but quickly became a villainous behemoth worthy of hate. Anwar Hadi‘s acting was solid as a charismatic tyrant – adopting the voice of that uppity educator really well. The kind of educator/authoritarian who ‘guffaws’ instead of ‘laughs’.
Redeeming features aren’t lacking in Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku. The play itself gives you the choice to select which act to start with first, which changes the flow of the story. One part of it is the perspective from the occurrences in school, and the other is from the perspective of the household – centered around the single mother character played by Tria Aziz. This innovation does add to the richness of how you would approach the story. Furthermore, the layout of the play – where the audiences are seated in between four corner stages – in certain occasions provide this immersive feeling that I was actually in the assembly along with other school students who are waiting to hear the announcement that will change their lives forever.
There is a little nostalgic magic in the writing and directing, thanks to the artistic direction of Christopher Ling and the intermittently witty scripting of Khairunazwan Rodzy and Khairi Anwar. However, most of the magic that Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku has fizzles into hefty drab as opposed to honest human interactions. The better piece of theatre that critiques our educational system would actually be Khairi Anwar’s other play IQ.Rock. A review for that will be out shortly!
Overall experience: 6.5/10