As the character of an ustazah pulls off her tudung and savagely chucks it backstage after explaining an excerpt from the Quran, we were slightly taken aback.
National Arts Awards recipient Zamzuriah Zahari does not hold back in Jalan Primadona.
The ustazah explains the Islamic concept of jilbaab, but upon removal of the headscarf transforms into a cackling, malevolent being who tempts protagonist Donaliah over to the dark side.
Donaliah has her reservations about being a performer on stage, because it conflicts with her spirituality. To be an entertainer, she sometimes must forego guidelines adopted by the Malay-Muslim woman.
It’s very much Zamzuriah speaking from her own heart, loud and clear; as mentioned in our previous write-up, there were plans for the acclaimed educator and performer to quit performing after this appearance on Pentas 1 at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.
Soon after, Donaliah angrily tears into the veterans and greats who chastise each other for misinterpreting traditional artforms. Donaliah is revered for her mak yong by certain quarters, but looked down upon by others because her form is deemed “incorrect”.
Between the issues Zamzuriah explores in Jalan Primadona are light-hearted moments based on her real-life accounts as a student at the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (ASWARA).
One of the biggest draws in the show is Zamzuriah’s execution of various traditional artforms including tari inai and mek mulung, performed with an ease and assuredness only a performing arts devotee can possess.
Jalan Primadonna breaks the fourth wall on several occasions; audience members are brought into scenes to act or dance with Donaliah. During her tari inai, viewers are encouraged to go down to the stage and throw money (notes only!) for Donaliah to pick up with her mouth, as she leans over backwards.
From her five-year old son Kamarul Bahaqi to brothers-in-law and relatives, Zamzuriah has her own flesh and blood performing supporting roles throughout the two hours of Jalan Primadona. Music is courtesy of family band Geng Wak Long, comprising traditional and modern musicians, under supervision from husband and musical director Baisah Hussin.
Much like how Saidah Rastam‘s experience, talent and bond to the nation culminated in Khazanah Nasional Berhad‘s Malam Terang Bulan last month, Zamzuriah’s Jalan Primadona is a proud and daring declaration of her love for art.
Our favourite moment? “Kehadiranmu”, one of ten songs written by Zamzuriah for the performance — a ballad which ends with a surprise, comical reveal of her husband’s name. She then proceeds to silat with him on stage, a warm sequence in which both performers nonchalantly engage one another in physical combat.
We won’t tell you more, because we beg you see it before it ends its run at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) this weekend.
The Actor’s Studio Seni Teater Rakyat presents Jalan Primadona on Pentas 1, KLPAC until December 20. Tickets can be obtained via Ticketpro and the KLPAC box office for RM66 (adults, buy 1 free 1), RM44 (TAS card members, senior citizens and the disabled, buy 1 free 1) and RM 22 (students).
Read more about the performance from our previous coverage. All images by Ridzuan Rashid.