LAST Saturday, Bicara Titian Budaya began with a delectable treat — Singaporean stage play Serunding premiered in the morning to Malaysian audiences five years after it first won the Open Category of the 24 Hour Playwriting Competition.
Written by then 23-year old National Institute of Education undergraduate Ahmad Musta’ain Bin Khamis, the play has been performed around Singapore year after year. Serunding‘s one-day run in Black Box, Publika, marks the first time the play visits Malaysian shores.
Starring celebrated Singaporean performing arts talent Aidli ‘Alin’ Mosbit as Safiah — initially offered the director’s role but refused after reading the script and demanded the lead role instead — the play is a one-woman monologue told by a Singaporean, Malay-Muslim mother in English directed by Lim Yu-Beng.
Safiah is the only person audiences see onstage in Serunding. The self-proclaimed good wife and mother of two goes through her chores — she folds, irons and carries things around her living room) while telling listeners more about her family. You’ll hear about her husband Sadikin, her son Syahid, and eventually even her daughter Suraya, who tends to dim her world ever so slightly.
For much of the play, Safiah is very much in delightful control: she laments her highly-popular husband, she celebrates her son while on the phone with a fellow makcik friend (and criticises someone else’s daughter like no other), and badmouths her mother-in-law, Sofea Jane. Despite everything, she begs everyone she loves to always remember to solat.
She also has a particularly harsh method of raising children — in her zeal to get Suraya to a good madrasah, a mother’s relationship with her daughter reaches breaking point despite the best of intentions.
As a result, Safiah’s moments of vulnerability — rare at first but increasing in frequency as she becomes more and more concerned about her runaway daughter — really tug at the heart.
Serunding shines in many aspects. It’s writing especially is entertaining, thought-provoking and brave — Ahmad Musta’ain’s wonderful protagonist is a seemingly-hypocritical woman who abides by selected tenets of her religion.
As a Singaporean Malay woman, Safiah submits to the requirements of being a Muslim, yet is portrayed as a flawed human being whose darkness gradually closes in while she sits at home alone. She’s a surprisingly relevant character to Malaysian audiences, further cementing cultural similarities between our local Malay community and its Singaporean counterparts.
Running at approximately 40 minutes in length, barely a moment is wasted by Alin as Safiah, alternating between jaunty and ruminative, helped along by stage lights which dim whenever she recalls a painful memory. Alin blazes through the script with ease, giving Serunding‘s moments of silence some weight.
By the time the play ended, tears were rolling down the cheeks of audience members.
Thanks to its striking honesty, amusing anecdotes, and a stellar turn from Alin, Serunding was a highly-rewarding staging on top of a great example of English-language Malay literature kept simple and effective.
Ahmad Musta’ain’s play seemed fairly easy to put together — it doesn’t ever leave the living room. As such we imagine it should have no problem touring throughout Malaysia, should there be any parties interested in picking it up because it’ll be a damn shame if only those who showed up at Bicara Titian Budaya got to see it.
PS: Keep an eye out for our quick chat with Serunding‘s playwright due here soon!
Bicara Titian Budaya was a free admission platform in conjunction with 50 years of friendship between Singapore and Malaysia. It took place on 12 December 2015 at Black Box, Publika. All images obtained from Titian Budaya.