Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Shakespeare Demystified’s Hamlet A Performance Lecture

Yasmin Bathamanathan reviews Hamlet A Performance Lecture by Shakespeare Demystified that was on at penangpac from 10-13 April 2014.

“To be or not to be …”

How many a times have we used this famous line from Hamlet without fully understanding its meaning? I remember using this very line in a debate I participated more than a decade ago in school. Sure, it is dramatic, pregnant with existential conundrum in whatever context we deem it be:

Successful – to be or not to be

Happy – to be or not to be

Wedded – to be or not to be

You get the gist.

Yet, only today, at the ripe old age of *ahem* did I find out what Shakespeare meant by that famous line in Hamlet’s soliloquy at Shakespeare Demystified‘s Hamlet A Performance Lecture. You see, in his many philosophical ramblings post-Hamlet the Older’s death, Hamlet the Prince either devices plans to bring his Uncle/Stepfather/Daddy-Murderer to justice or to seek vengeance upon murder of his Daddy (Hamlet, the Dead King @ Hamlet the Older).

However, in this particular soliloquy in the Nunnery Scene, sad puppy Hamlet contemplates suicide. “To be or not to be”, with the emphasis on the verb “be”, which indicates a state of being. In other words to EXIST or NOT TO EXIST @ ALIVE or DEAD. Nothing to do with success, happiness, matrimony or whatever else. “To be or not to be” was a question of “Should I live or should I kill myself”.

Wow! I know, right? If only the 16-year old me knew this. She probably would have known had she had the chance to attend something like Shakespeare Demystified‘s Hamlet A Performance Lecture.

Hamlet, while being one of the greatest plays of Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the entire history of mankind, is also mind-numbingly long. Four-hours long, give or take. Being the guardians of the demystification of Shakespearean sagas, this vagabond (not really; they are based in KL) troupe of Shakespearean fanboys and fangirls from Malaysia have come up with a surprisingly approachable introduction to Hamlet.

Selecting key scenes and events from the play, the cast of Hamlet A Performance Lecture first introduce the scene, give the audience a little background on the context, discuss the motivations behind some of the actions, provide literary criticism on the characters and events, and explain certain terms (who would have thought an innocuous phrase such as “country matters” can have double entendre?).

Five actors – Kien Lee, Anne James, Lim Soon Heng, Marina Tan and David H. Lim – each get to play Hamlet in different scenes besides playing out other characters. Each of them brings something different to the characterisations of Hamlet, giving the audience a somewhat rich and diverse experience. Needless to say, each of them is a delight in their individual portrayal, like Kien Lee’s maniacal Hamlet is cockier and crazier than Anne James’s strong and contemplative Hamlet. 

While it was an enlightening and entertaining for me as an audience to experience a deconstructed performance of Hamlet, the literature student in me was in full awe. The Shakespeare Demystified troupe has a lot more to offer than mere entertainment, and that is education. The two hours spent watching them and listening the discussions during the Q&A session made me come to one conclusion:

WE NEED TO INCORPORATE SHAKESPEARE DEMYSTIFIED (OR ITS CONCEPT) INTO OUR LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE SYLLABUS!

In case anyone from the Ministry of Education Malaysia is reading this, please send this message to your higher-ups:

CALL SHAKESPEARE DEMYSTIFIED TODAY AND START BRAINSTORMING! ASAP!

As for me, I am going to wait and hope that Shakespeare Demystified does not make me wait a whole year for their next production.

 

 

Review: Marrying Me

Tying the Knot? … Not!

By Khoo Wei Cyn

Images courtesy of PenTAS

Everyone has their own notions on what a complete and well-lived life comprises. For most of the older generation, their notion is centred on marriage, which, in part, is the product of our survival instincts for ensuring the continuity of our genetic line. Produced by The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) and Performing Arts Centre of Penang (penangpac), Marrying Me: A New Musical, directed by Christopher Ling, addresses this concept through script, dance and song for four days; from 5-8 December at stage 2, penangpac and 12-22 December at pentas 2, klpac.

Be sure to get your ticket today!
Be sure to get your ticket today!

In the musical, Stephanie (the main character) rebels against tradition and stigma to live a life she wants; freedom from all the problems that come when the “going gets tough” in a marriage. Her idea of normalcy clashes with that of her mother’s (Sandra). For Sandra, the desire to live as a woman in a matriarchal role and having a happy marriage is the normal path where as Stephanie, the NGO fighter for women’s rights, has seen the reality of marriages gone sour. To Stephanie, that reality is normalcy, and she wants to protect herself from that situation by being independent and self-sufficient.

More and more details about Stephanie’s upbringing are revealed as the musical progresses into the second act. We learn that her mother was a victim of an abusive marriage, and Tony, the man whom Stephanie had loved dearly, reminded her of her own father. Determined to never repeat the mistake her mother made, she insists on a life of singlehood but this is thwarted by Sandra’s faked chronic illness, where she makes Stephanie promise to get married in her “dying wish”. Whether she goes on with her promise or not, that you would have to discover for yourself.

Marrying Me is certainly the musical to watch. Its upbeat, snazzy music peppered with doses of comedy and hilarity is brought to life by a spectacular lead actress and a solid cast. I loved the music and the way the lyrics were written, plus the scenes where comic relief was prevalent to break up the sombre mood reflective of Stephanie’s dilemma.

You don’t have to love singlehood to appreciate this musical; I’m sure you can draw some parallels with your experiences about marriage from it. And if you’re single, you may walk away feeling better about staying that way. But no matter who you are, I think that you will enjoy watching Marrying Me as much as I did. What’s not to love about good music, great fun and endearing characters?

*A neophyte to theatre, Khoo Wei Cyn has just survived a thespian’s adventure at Short+Sweet Theatre Malaysia 2013 in Penang. She enjoys writing, reading and appreciating art in all forms.

Review of T4YP’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’

Romeo & Juliet: Sublime, Impeccable And Yet…

By Khoo Wei Cyn

Images courtesy of ShiPng.com

Romeo and Juliet is a tale which stretches back to antiquity. For eons, the concept of forbidden love was deemed the epitome of all romance stories. Produced by the Theatre For Young People (T4YP) ensemble which is based in Kuala Lumpur and directed by Christopher Ling, the performance of Romeo & Juliet at the Penang Performing Arts Centre (penangpac) on the 21st of September 2013 at Stage 2 was a play to beholdThe play was presented in an easy-to-relate adaptation of the original by William Shakespeare.

Welcome to SMK Damansara Verona
Welcome to SMK Damansara Verona

The concept in which this play was presented made the theatrical experience so fresh and enjoyable for laypersons such that the Shakespearean lingo did little to deter the audience from enjoying the play. Romeo & Juliet revolves around a group of Form Six students doing a moved reading of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and in the process they find themselves indulging in their characters so much that they build a new world around them, a world where reality runs parallel with art. This world would end with the ring of the bell, and every new day begins with the students going into their routine — marching into class and breaking into dance, where the actors are completely in character as Form Six students which they portray. But once the moved reading starts, their transition into their Romeo & Juliet world is immediate.

... every new day begins with the students going into their routine — marching into class and breaking into dance...
… every new day begins with the students going into their routine — marching into class and breaking into dance…

Actors Tan Yi Qing, Tan Boon Kit, Arief Hamizan and Aaron Lo portrayed their characters well. In the scene where Lady Capulet swore to cast Juliet out of the house should Juliet resist her arranged marriage with Count Paris, the lines of Capulet and Lady Capulet were reversed. Hence, in Romeo & Juliet Arief (Capulet/Benvolio) was performing the lines of Lady Capulet of the Shakespearean text whereas Yi Qing took the lines of Capulet. This was a good decision as she captivated the audience with her powerful performance during this scene, which left a lasting impression on me.

Qi Ying as Capulet captivating the audience with her powerful performance
Qi Ying as Capulet captivating the audience with her powerful performance

One of the most memorable scenes of the entire play was when Boon Kit (Mercutio/Montague) recited the lines “… I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes/By her high forehead and her scarlet lip/By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh…” and groped Arief to illustrate his description. The sheer bewilderment of Arief’s expression during this scene elicited laughter from the audience and I think he deserves an award for brilliant acting just for this part. Boon Kit was also expressive and amusing in his portrayal of Mercutio and Montague.

Boon Kit and Arief eliciting laughter
Boon Kit and Arief eliciting laughter

My favourite character of the whole play is Friar Laurence who falls under the jurisdiction of Aaron. He somehow adds a personal touch to the character, making Friar Laurence a cute mixture of dramatic, nerdy, awkward yet wise and fatherly-friarly towards Romeo. His acting was perfect during Act 2, Scene 3 while smelling and licking a paper doily in his hands.

Aaron as the Friar and his paper doily
Aaron as the Friar and his paper doily

Unfortunately, Romeo and Juliet (Joshua Aeria and Nadin Norzuhdy) didn’t stand out like some members of the cast. Perhaps they were very much into character as the students they play, and the students can’t fully relate to Romeo and Juliet. Or perhaps it is because Romeo and Juliet have lines which are quite limited in the range of emotions they could have.

Joshua and Nadin immersed in the all-consuming love of their characters
Joshua and Nadin immersed in the all-consuming love of their characters

The choreography for the dance scenes were well-coordinated and served an underlying message for the scenes they were featured in. A memorable dance scene in the play was when Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio sneaked into the Capulet ball which began like a 21st century style couple dance, but soon morphed into a comedic routine. Fighting scenes were so realistic that some members of the audience gasped when Arief was thrown to the ground.

Some members of the audience gasped when Arief was thrown to the ground!
Some members of the audience gasped when Arief was thrown to the ground!

As for props, the plastic chairs and tables prove to be very versatile, crafting all the scenes with just some assembly. The lighting serves as clues to the audience as to the transition from the play itself to the play-within-the-play.

Romeo, oh Romeo... look at the props!
Romeo, oh Romeo… look at the props!

Christopher Ling’s Romeo & Juliet is an absolutely splendid adaptation of the concept which makes Shakespeare’s version easy to understand for those unfamiliar with his work. It is certainly a masterpiece borne of painstaking effort and meticulous preparation by all means.

Kudos T4YP for a wonderful production of a classic.
Kudos T4YP for a wonderful production of a classic.

*A neophyte to theatre, Khoo Wei Cyn has just survived a thespian’s adventure at Short+Sweet Theatre Malaysia 2013 in Penang. She enjoys writing, reading and appreciating art in all forms.