By Zedeck Siew
Fast becoming Singapore’s most important playwright, the strength of Alfian Sa’at oeuvre lies in the wit and verve with which he handles a variety of subjects: Singaporean gay culture in the Asian Boys trilogy – the recently concluded “Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol 3” had audiences bawling in their seats; the SARS scare in 2006’s “Homesick”, which opened the inaugural Singapore Theatre Festival; Malay identity in 2003’s “Minah & Monyet”, which we saw as part of Teater Ekamatra’s Projek Suitcase four-part showcase that year.
Ekamatra’s latest offering is “Madu II” (one half of “Bulan Madu”, with “Anak Bulan di Kampung Wa’ Hassan”; first performed in 1998, the double bill played in Kuala Lumpur in 2001 to unanimous critical acclaim) a bitingly funny evisceration of the institution of Malay polygamy via conversation between two wives of an absent husband. At a recent press conference, I talk to this production’s director, Rohaizad Suaidi, about his show, which will run on August 11th and 12th, 2007.
We’ve seen “Madu II” in Malaysia before – both in 2001, and as an excerpt in last May’s “Within/Without”. Tell us about the play, this time around. Why bring it here again?
“Madu II” is Alfian’s most performed piece of Malay-language theatre. In fact, we just put up “Bulan Madu” again, last month: with Aidli “Alin” Mosbit and Oniatta Effendi – and Gene Sha Rudyn for “Anak Bulan di Kampung Wa’ Hassan”.
For the run in Kuala Lumpur, we’re having Mastura Ahmad and Seri Wahyuni Jaes: two television personalities very popular in Singapore.
We’ll also be having discussions after the evening performances on both days: on Friday, our panel – which will include activists like Toni Kasim – discusses polygamy, Islam, and the rights of husbands and wives; on Saturday, we’ll be having film academics – Benjamin McKay, among others – talking about P Ramlee (the title “Madu II” is a reference to P Ramlee’ s own comedy about polygamy, “Madu III”) and what we can do with him in the 21st Century.
You’re working with two separate of performers for the show’s two iterations, within weeks of each other. Why not just stick with one cast? Mastura Ahmad and Seri Wahyuni Jaes may be popular in Singapore, but not necessarily in the Klang Valley …
Alin and Oniatta were unavailable for the Malaysian leg – and we had originally wanted to work with both Mastura and Seri Wahyuni, anyway: I think they’re the finest actors we have, working in the Malay medium. This marks a return for them: the first time they’ll be performing onstage, after a very long while. Seri Wahyuni hasn’t done theatre since 1991.
Also, the weekend we’re performing, August 11th, is a long weekend for Singaporeans – it’s national day. And Singaporeans love to leave the country during holidays. I know for a fact that there are busloads of people coming up to KL.
But, I think that what we are trying to do is to revive an exchange between Singaporean and Malaysian artists; there used to be a strong sense of sharing a decade ago – both our actors have collaborated with Malaysians before – but that’s something that is not so common today. We’d hate to lose the connection. Ekamatra’s a whole lot of Malaysian theatre practitioners to come see the show: it’ll be an opportunity to network, to meet and dialogue, to share resources and talent.
First Published: 08.08.2007 on Kakiseni