Built like an underground punk rock concert inhabited by post-rock musicians and spoken word poets, Losertown sh***s on the very idea of musicals with high-strung ferocity. But is it resonant, or just full out noise?
Presented by | The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat
Executive Producer | Dato’ Faridah Merican
Artistic Director | Joe Hasham OAM
Director | Tung Jit Yang
Scenographer | Yusman Mokhtar
Senior Production Manager | Gan Eng Cheng
Production Manager | Soo Choy Wah
Asst. Production Manager | Olivia Saw, Benedict Chin
Featuring | Hannan Azlan
With | Coebar Abel, Ian Francis Khoo, Endee Ahmad & Khairil Imran
You can still check it out!
Date & Time |
7th – 10th December & 12th – 17th December @ 8.30pm
9th & 16th December @3pm
Venue | Studio 9, The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre
Tickets | RM 38
Band breakups and bashing Broadway
The story of Losertown is described someone vaguely as a hero(ine) journey that is met with the age-old complication involving the protagonist’s misfortune in finding themselves trapped in the ‘Belly of the Whale’ . This overly generic description of the play actually suits it very well because it takes the cliche of all stories about “the inevitable hero overcoming odds” and strips it down to fit the personal lives of each band member. However most of it is centered around the perspective of Hannan Azlan’s character. The character’s story anchors the spoken word, monologues,songs and all the seemingly incoherent parts of the play through the repetition of the phrase “Once upon a time there was a coward”. Whatever notion of a story that is found in the play is told through the band members, consisting of Hannan Azlan, Coebar Abel, Ian Francis Khoo, Endee Ahmad & Khairil Imran.
Although directed by Tung Jit Yang, the writing of the play is predominantly devised as the actors play a huge role in contributing and commandeering the contents of the script – since, after all, the play is adapted from the real life split of them as a single band. The honesty is shown in the writing, even if it is enveloped in fancier proses, abstract physical theatre, and lyrics about facing fears and questioning what it means to be a hero(ine) in the first place.
So which part of this ‘sh**s on musicals’, you ask? Well, firstly, Losertown throws the general trope of musicals story-wise as it borders (and sometimes generously drowning in) the experimental, as opposed to the clean-cut “good vs evil” (think classics like West Side Story) storytelling. It would be a massive exaggeration to suggest that they’re the first at attempting this, but Losertown definitely pushes long-established boundaries in a refreshing way. This is also evident in the literal “mess” that is the staging – paper plastered on the walls, clothes lying about. As if creating an environment of a stage closet, proverbially beckoning you to meet the skeletons inside it.
Secondly are the songs. Losertown utilizes the already ambient nature of post rock (for an example of post-rock, click on this link ) so beautifully with the wonderful instrumental work by all four of the main actors. I did not specify what instrument because almost all of them were played more than one instruments, exchanging guitars for drums, and even Hannan famous for award-winning her ukulele stand up bits, played piano in some parts too. The prowess of these musicians crosses genre-definitions, as it sometimes feel like a cabaret, or a lounge act drenched in pedal effects and poetry what with Hannan acting as the “quasi-host”, introducing the characters in the play like an MC-songstress.
Unfocused or necessary chaos?
The acting is mostly competent with Hannan embodying the spirit of riot grrl singers & punk poets, like a wonderful hybrid of Kathleen Hanna, Patti Smith and Fiona Apple at the same time, while ALSO swinging between her quintessentially sarcastic, coquettish self. There is a lot of emotional range in her portrayal too, most evident when she shows the despairingly crushed side of her character, living in a world of expectations and imminent failure. At times, the embodiment of her role is too disorienting that it’s enough to throw you off the immersion – instead of being thought-provoking or hilariously self-aware, as initially intended. Although other actors fall slightly into the background, it is worth highlighting the wonderfully stoic acting of Khairil Imran made more enigmatic by the Mesoamerican headdress, Coebar Abel‘s spoken word stints in the play and Endee Ahmad’s carnatic, azan-like vocals that can send chill down your spines. Their presence in the play is more in the instrumentation, with all of the virtuosity carrying the breadth of the play, including Ian Francis‘s minimal but overtly suave persona.
In an attempt to pay tribute/strip down the genre of musicals and the hero(ine) journey, Losertown occasionally falls out of balance in its endeavour to talk about so many themes. Feats like these are made especially difficult with the lack of a singular narrative, which is not inherently bad or good, of course, considering the play’s experimental nature. Still it is worth notifying potential theatre-goers unfamiliar to abstract theatre that some context is required to grasp what the play intends to convey lest they come off thinking this is all just an elaborate inside joke. Stuff like the questioning of the choice of your “old wise man” in the journey of your life (think Gandalf, Dumbledore or Ben Kenobi) is lucid, but stories about dreams by Endee Ahmad, where he talks about planting the stem of roses; it feels like its stuffed into the narrative with very little grace and justification, at least beyond the justification of giving sufficient stage time to all four actors in the play.
They did it their way
There are many moments of ingenuity in this play worth highlighting. Credit must be given to Yusman Mokhtar
for the amazing scenography. The costume changes and scene transitions are works of amazing blocking and coordination with little cut-out boxes representing cities, fairy and strobe lighting to set the mood which is heavily contrasted by the wacky costumes. It is still not without a few jarring flaws though, where some of the transitions feel clumsy and unfocused, and the mania of the characters in the scene drags out too long that it becomes tiring as opposed to engaging. A good example of this is the innovative scene of Hannan stopping the disembodied voice of Frank Sinatra (coming out from a phone speaker) singing My Way. She does this repeatedly as if to signify the overbearing reluctance of letting the show to end. At a certain point however, it stopped being symbolic or relatable, and just slowly mutated into an excessively draggy last act.
Context, themes and symbolism aside, there is still a lot to be taken from Losertown that anyone can enjoy. First and foremost is the wonderful music, deserving of an entire album. The music at times stands so strongly by itself that it is easy to image the whole composition and arrangement without any of the props that seem to only embellish the power of the songs. Secondly, is that the overall message of standing up, and moving into the Big City and out of Losertown is still accessible and oddly inspiring. Nonetheless, some seams stick out very obviously in Losertown, and sits uncomfortably between “experimental” and “self-indulgent”.
Maybe self-indulgence is the point, hence we have the actors take up the mantle of resolved indifference towards any critique and audience response by saying a final “f*** off” to the audience (which Hannan actually does at the end of the play). Maybe it is a platform for the band members expression, sharing the struggles and conflicts they’ve gone through to be the people that they are today. With that being said, as an audience, some of this unfortunately becomes unfocused mumbo-jumbo really fast, stopping short of becoming a powerful piece that rips out cliches with admirable belligerence and well-articulated honesty.
Overall, it is still a trip worth being on, if not at least, for the incomparable soundscape. They did it their way. Absolutely unique and mesmerizing throughout. An effective chaser to the unpredictable intoxication that Losertown brings.
You can still buy tickets to see Losertown at Studio 9, KLPAC. You can buy tickets by clicking on this link.
Here are the dates:
12th – 17th December @ 8.30pm
16th December @3pm