Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Men In Heels


Joe Hasham talks to theSun about his latest theater production, Men Heels that deals with three men who faces gender issues. Read the full story here 

Headline: Kicking Up The Heels 
By Bissme S 

NEW THEATRE production Men in Heels aims to dispel the many misconceptions about an oft-talked-about segment of society, while at the same time, show that despite our differences, we are all the same underneath. 
The show will be staged at Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac), and Performing Arts Centre of Penang (penangpac) over the next few weeks. Recently, director Joe Hasham invited me to sit in on a few rehearsals. 
From what I have seen, Men in Heels, produced under the banner of The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat, will take the audience on a roller coaster of emotions. 
The production centers around three best friends – Ilya (played by Zhafir Muzani), Bryan (Ivan Chan), and Peter (Mark Beau de Silva) – recalling the best and worst times in their lives. At its core, it is an outrageously funny and heartachingly poignant look into the world of drag, as seen through the eyes of its three characters’ alter-egos. Initially, Joe had wanted a grand drag show with 10 to 15 dancers on stage. 
He turned to klpac’s resident director and writer Mark to write the screenplay. Instead, Mark presented a script with a different tone from what Joe had imagined. 
“I feel in love with the script immediately,” Joe recalls. 
“It is a wonderful script of three men with gender issues. People are so critical of those who are different. We should be celebrating our differences.” 
On his script, Mark says: “I am going into the psyche of these three individuals. We are looking at the world of drag on many levels. We are asking many questions about this world. “Are we defined by the clothes we wear? Are we defined by our gender roles? “Often, I hear words like: 'We have to tolerate people like them’. But tolerance is such a dirty word. We make them feel invisible, as if they do not exist. 
“We are trying to represent them respectfully in this play.” 
Director Joe agrees. He points out that the play will showcase some of the hilarious scenarios these characters encounter, as well as highlight the struggles they endure. 
“In the play, we have three very different individuals, at very different stages in their life,” says Joe. 
“They rely on each other, root for each other, and celebrate their individuality fiercely.” 
llya, also known as Sahara or Labia Labu, loves tough-looking policemen. Sadly, the attraction only goes one way. Bryan, who is also known as Double Entendre, leads a double life, while Peter, aka Caroline Sik Nee, is a stylish lady who likes Laura Ashley prints and tea parties. 
In one scene, Ilya recalls his first love, a former schoolmate, speaking with humour and sweetness. But when he goes on to
reveal that their love story does not have a happy ending, all the sweetness in Ilya’s voice disappears, and all one can hear is the sadness. 
There are no tears in Ilya’s eyes, but you can feel the pain in his body language. Kudos to Zhafir for nailing these emotions in his character perfectly. 
Joe has also shot six music video clips featuring the characters in drag, which will be intertwined with the play on stage. The actors also had to undergo two months of training to learn how to walk and dance in heels. 
“The audience will see the glamorous side of the drag world, but behind the glamour, there is a lot of pain involved,” Joe says. 


Footnote Men in Heels will be staged at klpac from Feb 24 to March 11, and at penangpac from March 16 to 17




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

OlaBola The Musical (Review)

What to know what OlaBola The Musical looks like? Well you can read the review in theSun today (Feb15, 2018)

Headline: The Champions of Song 

BY Bissme S

WHEN the queen of Malaysian musical theatre, Tiara Jacquelina, first announced that she wanted to turn the hit movie OlaBola into a musical, I had my doubts. 
It was hard to imagine how she would adapt a sports film into a stage production. I could not visualise a group of footballers scoring goals while singing their hearts out. 
True enough, the production seemed to be struggling during rehearsals. Then, a week before opening night, Tiara announced that they would use “cutting-edge technology” to enhance the play, with 3D projection mapping, 360° surround sound, as well as state-of-the-art lighting technology. I felt she was taking a huge risk. 
If she went overboard with the cutting-edge technology, the whole production could end up looking tacky. And what if the technology did not work smoothly during the staging process? She would have a nightmare on her hands. 
I was expecting a train wreck on the Feb 8 opening night at Istana Budaya Kuala Lumpur, but Tiara and her team pulled off something really marvellous, outstanding and magical. With this spectacular show, Tiara has elevated herself to the role of ‘empress of Malaysian musical theatre’. 
In P. Ramlee the Musical, she brought a train on stage. In OlaBola, she went a step further and brought a ‘military helicopter’ into the show just before the interval! The scene would take your breath away. I am not going to reveal more, so as not to spoil the surprise for others who have yet to see this musical, which will run till March 11. Just be there and experience the magic. 
OlaBola is loosely based on the real-life story of the Malaysian national football team who overcame a series of obstacles to qualify for the Olympics in 1980. 
The scene stealers of the show are Iedil Putra, Douglas Lim and Nasz Sally, who will tickle your funny bones with their witty dialogue and funny gestures. Iedil plays clownish radio host Rahman, Nasz is the kooky Cik Kiah, while Lim is the grumpy kopitiam owner who constantly criticises the Malaysian football team. 
There are many moving moments in the musical, too. But the one that really touched my heart is when Abi Manyu, who plays goalkeeper ‘Spiderman’ Muthu, quarrels with his father, Appa (played by Nave VJ), who disapproves of him playing football and prefers Muthu to concentrate on the family business instead. When Muthu sings about quitting the team, Abi’s vocals shine. 
Another touching moment is when Melissa Ong, who plays Mei Ling, the sister of team captain ‘Tauke’ Chow Kwok Keong (played by Brian Chan), tries to persuade her brother to return to the team after he quits over an argument with coach Harry Mountain (Stephen Rahman-Hughes). Like Abi, Ong has an amazing voice. 
The football matches are intense, and the new technology adds to that intensity. The songs are also catchy, the dances lively, and the energy levels fiery. 
Even Chiu Keng Guan, the  director of the OlaBola film on which this musical is based, loved what he saw on the opening night. 
“It was awesome” was his reply when asked how he felt. Like me, he loved the military helicopter scene. 
The only complaint I have is that the show goes a little overboard with the patriotism factor. At the end, the audience gave a well-deserved standing ovation for Tiara and her team. 

For more, visit the OlaBola the Musical website.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Ayam Fared & Layang





I have interviewed actor, director and writer Ayam Fared who talks about his latest production. Here is the full story 

Headline: Going Beyond The Norm 
By Bissme S 

For a theater performance that is adventurous, different, and exciting, catch Layang, being staged tomorrow and Sunday, at new community arts initiative KongsiKL, located in Taman Goodwood, Kuala Lumpur. 
KongsiKL, housed within a large industrial warehouse, offers a fluid, versatile set-up that encourages audiences to move around the performance area. 
Produced under the banner of Main Wayang, Layang is a multimedia performance that incorporates various elements such as physical theatre, shadow play, visual effects, virtual reality and electronic soundscapes, within a minimalist structure. 
Main Wayang believes strongly in making theatre performances accessible to the public. In keeping with this belief, entrance to the Layang performance will be free, in the hope of attracting a more diverse audience, and not solely theatregoing enthusiasts. 
The show only has three members – writer-actor-director Ayam Fared who is also the sole performer in the production, visual artiste Fairuz Sulaiman, and musician Sudarshan Chandra Kumar. Ayam says: “Some will label  our production as ‘experimental’. But personally speaking, we do not like giving labels to our performance.” 
In fact, Ayam – who won best director at the 2012 Boh Cameronian Arts for his prison play Short Eyes – sums up Layang as a performance where the artistes are trying to find a medium to communicate with each other and the audience. 
He admits the way they are presenting this production is not the norm in the Malaysian theatre scene, but adds that they are always seeking alternative ways to tell stories without the use of a huge cast and crew. 
“As artistes, we must never stop finding new ways to tell our stories, and we must never stop asking questions about ourselves and about our craft.” 
To elaborate, Ayam says: “For example, if you are a painter, you must ask yourself: are you only a painter if you have an exhibition? When you do not have exhibition, do you still paint?” 
The one-hour show will explore the themes of migration, displacement, and isolation. 
“The show will follow one particular character who is searching for a society where he can be himself,” he says. 
“All of us are directly and indirectly searching for a place where we can be real and not feel disconnected and alienated. 
“We are not providing any answers in this play. Sometimes, our job as an artiste is to create questions. I feel we do not ask enough questions.” 
Ayam frequently dabbles in bold, avant-garde performances. So does he hate everything that is commercial? 
He says: “These days if you are in a commercial world, you will be asked how many followers you have in your social media. I do not want to lead that kind of life. I do not want my life to be just a series of captions on Instagram. I am exploring life. I am trying to find what is real, and what is suitable. If I walk in the commercial world, I think I will not be allowed to explore life.” 
When asked the biggest misconception about him, Ayam laughingly says: “They believe I love to be edgy, experimental and to push boundaries. “In reality, I just want to live a simple, happy life without much struggle.”


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

OlaBola The Musical in theSun

OlaBola The Musical opens officially to the public today till March 11. Here is a look at the coverage of the OlaBola The Musical in theSun .... 





Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Wan Nor Azriq

Author Wan Nor Azriq speaks to theSun  about his interactive novel Di Kala Bulan Bermain Biola, published by Roman Buku Sdn Bhd. Here is the full story 


Headline: Playing With The Story 
By Bissme S

MOST authors decide what happens in the stories that they write. But Wan Nor Azriq is taking a different approach with his sixth novel, Di Kala Bulan Bermain Biola, published by Roman Buku Sdn Bhd. 
Di Kala Bulan Bermain Biola is one of three books which will be officially launched at MPH Nu Sentral this Saturday at 2pm. 
The 31-year-old author explains: “My [book] is an interactive novel, and usually in an interactive novel ... the freedom is given to the readers.” 
His novel takes place in a mysterious, surrealistic town called Pekan Lama. The town’s inhabitants are peculiar beings, and the place is infested with rats. Amidst all this, the unnamed narrator is searching for his lover. 
Wan Nor has provided many alternatives to how the story will end, and readers can slip into the shoes of the narrator and choose their own adventure. The story also gives him a chance to experiment. “[We] always put humans at the centre of our stories, and they become our main characters,” he says. 
But in this novel, he decided to make the town of Pekan Lama the main ‘character’, and the protagonist is just a silent observer of the world he is in. Reading the novel is almost like solving a puzzle game.
 “All my novels have a playful nature, and this novel is where I am most playful,” he says. 
Blurring the lines of what is real and what is not has always been his trademark, as seen in his previous books, D.U.B.L.I.N., Boneka Rusia Guido, Soneta Roda Basikal, Dompet Kulit Buaya, and Astronomi Bilik Mainan. 
“Some writers write realistically,” he says. 
“But there is a part of me which is still a kid, and I need something out of this world and be imaginative to create my story. If I get too serious, I do not think I can get excited and be creative. 
“There are two types of writers. The first type are ‘adult’ writers like Leo Tolstoy and Herman Melville, and when you read them, you learn about life. They are so wise. 
“The second type are ‘childlike’ writers such as Roberto Bolano and Edgar Allan Poe, and when you read them, you feel the excitement for literature. 
“I want people who read my works to feel excited ... I just do not know how to write something that is too ‘wise’. 
“[In Malaysia] you are expected to write something serious, intelligent and meaningful. I want to rebel against this norm. I want to write something playful and more fun.” 
However, at the moment he is not working on any new novels. “Writing this novel was exhausting,” he says. 
“I need a break. I might not write any novels this year. I will read more books and find new ideas. Maybe, I will try to write short stories.” 
When asked what is the biggest misconception that people have of him, he answers: “They think my writing is completely immoral, and I have no sense of responsibility. They believe I do not have respect for Malaysian literature. 
“People always assume when you write fiction, you are supposed to fight for certain issues and change the country for the better. I do not have those elements in my writing. 
“I believe observing life is far more important than fighting certain issues.” He is honest enough to admit his books do not always get the thumbs up from readers. Last month, at a literature forum, a reader expressed  disappointment over Wan Nor’s debut novel D.U.B.L.I.N., which won first prize in the novel category of the prestigious Sayembara Penulisan writing competition in 2013. 
He says: “He complained that my novel has no meaning ... some readers become extremely dissatisfied when I do not give a clear meaning in my novels. 
“But as a writer, I expect my readers to experience my work, and have their own interpretation. “You just cannot expect a writer to explain his work to you.” 

Monday, February 5, 2018

the cast of OlaBola The Musical


The much anticipate musical theatre that everyone is looking forward to , OlaBola The Musical is opening on this thursday. theSun interviewed four key cast members from the musical and here is the full story  

Title: Ready For Stage 

By Bissme S

 PRODUCER-DIRECTOR Tiara Jacquelina has adapted Chiu Keng Guan’s 2016 hit film OlaBola, about the exploits of the Malaysian national football team which successfully qualified for the 1980 Olympics, into a 165- minute extravaganza . 
With OlaBola the Musical ready to entertain audiences at Istana Budaya from this Thursday to March 11, theSun sat down with four of its key actors to talk about their roles, and their experiences in bringing the film to life onstage. 

* Muhd Luqman Hafidz Luqman was featured in the original film as Ahmad Ali, a top player on the team, and is reprising the role in the musical. 
“When I first heard about the musical, I wanted to try my luck,” says Luqman. 
“This role holds a special place [in my heart]. This is my first role in a feature film. You will always remember your first feature film role ... I did not want another actor playing this role.” 
Still, he was surprised that he passed the audition, as this would be his first time performing on stage.
 “I have never sang and danced before,” he adds.
 “You will be seeing me doing a lot of rap.” 
He is also very much in awe of his director, Tiara. 
“She is an actress, and knows how to influence actors to give their best performance.” 

*Lim Jian Wen Like Luqman, Lim  appeared in the film, playing eccentric footballer Ong Tiam Chai, and he is also reprising the role in the musical. 
In fact, it was Luqman who pushed him to attend the audition for the musical, says Lim. 
“I must really thank Luqman for getting me the role. If not for him, I would not have attended the audition.” 
This is also his first attempt at acting on stage. What he likes best is that Tiara held several workshops and intense rehearsals for the cast to really get into character for their roles. 
“I have learned a lot from the workshops and rehearsals,” Lim says. “I am a better actor because of it.”

* Iedil Putra Iedil  takes on the role of bubbly radio host Rahman in the musical. The role was played brilliantly by Bront Palarae in the film version. 
Bront has said Tiara did a great job casting ledil for the role, and believes ledil will give a mind-blowing performance. Iedil is aware the audience and critics are going to make comparisons between his performance and Bront’s. 
“I have to learn to deal with the comparison, and I am going to upstage Bront,” he says with a laugh. 
On a more serious note, Iedil explains that musical theatre is a different medium from film, and so naturally will require a different way to interpret the character. 
“Personally, I love the film because it is inspiring, and has unified the nation,” adds ledil, who is picky about his roles. 
He believes the musical will create similar emotions, and with Tiara holding court, he is certain she will take the audience on a thrilling ride. 

*Douglas Lim The 40-year-old comedian  is playing a role specially created for him. Lim plays Uncle Wong who runs a kopitiam, a character that did not exist in the film.
 “My character is loud, pessimistic, and has tremendous doubt that the Malaysian team can qualify for the Olympics,” he explains. Lim started his acting career in 1998 in the TV comedy show Kopitiam, playing the flamboyant hairdresser Steven who loves to hang out with his friends at a kopitiam. He adds with a laugh: 
“It is ironic that 20 years later, I am playing a kopitiam owner in this musical. It appears I have not progressed at all.” 


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Norzizi Zulkifli & Mak Yong



Today theSun published my interview with theater director  Norzizi Zulkifli  who is putting up a Mak Yong performance. This dance form is banned in Kelantan. Read more of the story here 

Headline: Shakespeare meets Mak Yong 
By Bissme S


VERY few urbanites have ever seen a Mak Yong performance, a traditional form of Malay dance-drama which originated in Kelantan. It was already playing to dwindling audiences before it was officially banned in that state in 1991, because religious authorities deemed it ‘unIslamic’. 
Since then, Mak Yong performers have struggled to keep the art alive, performing it outside of its home state. In 2005, it received a much needed boost when Unesco declared Mak Yong as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Audiences in Kuala Lumpur can now catch one of the more modern performances of this ancient art, with the staging of Mak Yong Titis Sakti in the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac). 
The performance is based on an intriguing interpretation of one of English playwright William Shakespeare’s best-known works – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 
Mak Yong Titis Sakti is conceptualised and directed by acclaimed theatre director Norzizi Zulkifli . Norzizi has staged it once before in 2009, also at klpac. 
Recalling her experiences then, Norzizi, 42, said: “klpac is known for its ‘English’ crowd, and I had some reservations [whether] the show would get a good response when I wanted to stage it for the first time.” 
Fortunately, Norzizi, currently the head of the Theatre Programme at the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation in Universiti Teknologi Mara, had nothing to worry about. 
Back then, the two-hour show played to a full house for five nights, receiving standing ovations and rave reviews. It was not only a runaway success but also managed to attract a large number of non-Malay crowd. Now, the performance has returned under the banner of The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat. 
“I am performing the same piece, in a bigger hall, at the same venue,” Norzizi adds. 
“I have a far bigger challenge, as I have more seats to fill.” 
Norzizi had creatively blended eastern and western elements into her show, adapting the original story and changing the characters’ names to suit the local setting. 
Mak Yong Titis Sakti tells of two men, Indera Putera and Iskandar Muda, who are both in love with Cempaka Sari, who only has eyes for Iskandar Muda. Unfortunately, her father wants her to marry Indera Putera instead. So, Cempaka Sari and Iskandar Muda decide to flee into the forest. 
The couple are pursued by Indera Putera, who is in turn followed by Seri Laksana, who is in love with Indera Putera. What the four individuals do not realise is that something mystical will take place in the forest, and that their lives are going to change forever. 
“You can easily adapt most works by Shakespeare into Mak Yong,” said Norzizi, who previously won the Boh Cameranion award for best theatre director in 2013 for Usikan Rebab. 
“Shakespeare liked to focus on royalty and mystical characters, and a lot of stories in Mak Yong have similar traits.” 
Her production has been studied by the National University of Singapore, and has appeared in numerous publications, including the Routledge Handbook of Asian Theatre. 
About 25 cast and crew members are involved in the production, including music director Kamrul Hussin, set designer Bayu Utoma Radjikin, and costume designer Nur Afifi Mohammed Taib. 
Some of the cast members from the 2009 performance will be making a return, including two of the most well-known guardians of Mak Yong – Zamzuriah Zahari, who is also choreographing the work, and Rosnan Rahman. 
Other returning cast members include Asrulfaizal Kamaruzaman, Rosdeen Suboh, Shahanaros Shahruddin, Elza Irdalynna, and Siti Farrah Abdullah. They will been joined by popular actress Mardianna Alwi, Ezdiannee Hayatie Omar, Safia Hanifah and Putri Hannan Shahidah, as well as five dancers and 12 musicians. 
Norzizi was kind enough to give the media a preview of her upcoming production, and most of the journalists were impressed with what they saw. I find the traditional music accompanying the performance simply awesome. In addition, 30% of dialogue in Mak Yong Titis Sakti is in English, while the rest is in the Kelantanese dialect. 
“I have a dream that one day I can present a full Mak Yong performance entirely in English, and I hope I can make the dream come true soon,” says Norzizi.

Footnote : Mak Yong Titis Sakti will be staged at Pentas 2, klpac, from this Saturday to Feb 4.