Anomalist Production sure has been on the track to becoming a truly prolific theatre company late with their many productions. They return this week after a head start this year with Polos and DPAC’s d’Next Arstist submission of Mohd Firdaus bin Sallehuddin, in their most confident theatre production yet, Teater Attorney.
Why we say confident? One, because the subject matter is an area very familiar to the writer-director, Khairi Anwar, a law graduate. Two, because this time everything was sharp and well-rehearsed: from the acting, the staging, the costumes, and also right down to the directing.
The cast featured notable fresh talents, such as MK Farhan (Umar), Nikki Basharudin (Marina), Laila Adila (Fayizah), and Cheryl Monteiro (Natrah). All actors possessed great voice, great stage and body control, and used their expressions well to add drama to a script that would have otherwise come off as dry
Khairi Anwar has grown so much in his field. In Teater Attorney, he puts up a creative staging to showcase the happenings in a courtroom, complete with on-point light changes and sound effects. One notable thing about Khairi’s direction in all his pieces is that he make sure the energy of the play inclines – always on an upward journey – and Attorney was no exception.
Unfortunately, one thing Anomalist can never run away from is their overly dramatic local TV drama-based storytelling.
The premise of Attorney goes like this – defence lawyer Umar goes against his arch enemy, prosecutor Marina, in defending a driver who was blindly following his boss’s order to kidnap a child. Marina always win against Umar, except in one case, where Umar defended an innocent (so he claimed) murderer. The side story includes Fayizah, a law journalist who wishes to take down Umar because (jeng jeng jeng) her father was the victim of the murder case that Umar defended.
Can you hear the Safi Balqis ad coming up already?
The script falls flat because of these few things:
1) Poor Characterisation
The characters are simply hard to buy.
Umar is a hot-tempered, emotional little brat, whose Mother committed suicide, and Father was sent to prison for drug dealing because Umar himself turned him in (yes, maybe those are very emotionally scarring memories that can affect a person’s composition but why make him a ‘brat’?). No wonder he keeps losing to Marina, and maybe even other lawyers.
Why is Umar always using the same technique to question his witnesses (Setuju dengan saya…)? Why is Umar allowed to still be in court if his temper issues are uncontrollable? Why is Umar even a lawyer if all he does is jump to conclusion and make assumptions? Do aliens exist? Will we ever cure cancer? Nobody knows.
Marina is a sneaky law she-devil who wins her cases by bribing people and yet, holds strong values regarding the laws.
Generally, I had a love-hate relationship with Marina. She is strong, but portrayed to be sexy and sneaky. She is good at her job and has great values and respect for law, but she also uses dirty technique to win.
In the end Marina won the case, and Umar apologised to her. So, is Marina supposed to be the good one? Because you made me hate her throughout the entire play.
Marina can be a stronger character if the actress hold her gaze longer and maintain a steady posture. When she doesn’t, she looks slightly disorienting.
Natrah is Umar’s bossy assistant, who also, weirdly, loves poetry. I believe Natrah is an attempt at a comic relief, but I’m not sure I like it entirely. I don’t even remember any of her witty/dumb lines. She had something there when she mentioned she was good at memorising things – which will make an interesting character, the secretary who memorises everything and bosses her boss around – but for some reason Khairi had to use the cliche “bimbo short-skirt wearing secretary” technique. Yawns.
Lastly, Fayizah. I would have rooted for her if she was a strong, curious, determined journalist as they had set her in her first scene. But no, she ended up as the typical emotional, vengeful victim, who lost all her professionalism and clue finding skills when she gets upset. Sigh.
It was mentioned in the play (intentional or not) that the story is inspired by Batman vs Superman, but the 2 main characters are so antagonistic that the only person I liked in the play was the defendant.
Passive-aggresive Feminist Messages
Not sure what Khairi is trying to do here, but I’m getting some weird feminist commentary (not that feminist commentaries are inherent;y weird). First of all, there was Fayizah being ambitious about taking Umar down, and then her police officer friend (played by Nave VJ), said something along the lines of “Yelah, kau kan perempuan!”
Not sure if she took offence in that or not, (maybe she knows her friend is just joking, or maybe she’s going to prove to us she’s stronger than that), but later when she finally meets Umar for the first time, she said, “Can you please be a little polite? I’m a woman.” Whuuttttt
Likewise, lawyer Umar mentioned he is a feminist, yet, raises his hand to hit Marina when they got into a fight. I have a huge problem with this scene, because Umar’s anger issue is clearly a psychological effect from the hatred he had for his dad, yet it was never justified or addressed. Perhaps the writer thought it will add drama/ character to the character, but dude, hitting a woman is a big move. Are you sure you want to deal with that? What is the inherent need for this scene?
In the final scene, when Umar showed the letter to Fayizah and she goes through a moment of emotional outbreak, Natrah casually appears, which cued Umar to say, “She (Fayizah) needs some moments,” prompting Natrah to go ahead and “be a girlfriend” to calm Fayizah down. Why is that necessary? Do women need other women to comfort them when they are upset?
This all might sound a little petty but I’m just curious as to the mindset that went on behind the making of these scenes.
A good director is a good observer of human behaviours
Like what the late Krishen Jit said, “a good director is a good observer of human behaviours.” Khairi needs to observe human beings more, especially in court rooms. Especially in mock trials he wants to turn into a theatre script. The actors were skillful and precise, keeping the pace and energy up, but many “human” moments were fluttered by – wasted. Many times, their lines were just said out, and delicate interactions were killed. At times, many of them sounded like they were reading the news, even more so in the news reading scene. Khairi focused a little too much on the extreme anger outbreak scenes, making sure the drama was kept up. Perhaps he forgot that theatre is not just loud and abrasive drama, theatre is also about the subtlety of being human.
It’s good to see that Anomalist Production as a whole have matured, but a lot still needs to be done to really tap into the potential of a decently alluring premise.
All images taken from Anomalist Production Facebook page.