Monday, November 4, 2013

The Persistence of Memory: A Review of Teater Kompilasi Namron

Teater Kompilasi Namron just concluded its run at the Damansara Performing Arts Center and I caught the last show. This is something I have been waiting for seven years and for the most part, it was not disappointing. Sorry, I'm being a bit British here even though I come from a small swamp in Kuantan - it was quite brilliant.

The first one was a monologue - Aku Nak Jadi Bintang. First saw it many years (NOTE:10 years ago, in 2003, played by Mardiana Ismail) ago as a performance at the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards. This time, it was performed by Sharifah Amani.

The first staging of the play was unique in its stark juxtaposition of innocence and guile, youthful enthusiasm and jaded reality. It is always quite disconcerting - unsettling even - seeing a small, child-like character in an oversized man's shirt and fishnet stockings, her lips the smeared rouge of a lady of the night.

It's like watching Lolita (the 1997 film, not Kubrick's inferior adaptation) - a kind of uneasy draw.

The original staging had what I remember - if memory serves correct - the performer walking a very narrow tightrope made of light on the stage, with the lightbulb representing perhaps the character's macguffin - the brightness of fame, success, love and affection.

The performer wobbled as if she was on a real tightrope, or on the Islamic Siratul-Mustaqim or the Zoroastrian As-Sirat. Both referred to the same thing - a thin line the seventh of a hair which represents the narrow path of righteousness and morality one has to travel in order to get to heaven.

This instance had the setting opened up. The aisles of light wider, and the wobbling less so. Also missing was a punctuating fall at the end of it, which ended neatly with the character wobbling, almost assuredly falling off the path, and then the lights go out. That was seven or eight years ago, so my memory is questionable.

However, despite these differences, Amani successfully delivered an unsettling tale of ambition and sex. As with all ambition, which is poison, nothing ever ends well.

The second piece - Laut Yang Tenang - completes Namron's unfinished trilogy. Unfinished in my mind, as I never saw this third installment.

I have seen Aku Nak Jadi Bintang and Laut Lebih Indah Dari Bulan around seven years ago.

After a stellar performance of Laut Lebih Indah Dari Bulan, I asked the director and scriptwriter Namron about the two plays.

"This is my trilogy," he said.

And I said, "What trilogy? There's never been a third one."

Then he fixed me with one of those weird stares, and that was that.

Seven years later, here we are.

So, anyway, the second one seemed... a bit rough. The two actors Vanidah Imran and Aqasha are brilliant performers and executed the text well. However, the source material itself seemed incomplete and rushed.

I was listening to the audience and the increase in the amount of involuntary noise, the clearing of throats, the shifts in seats - someone was absent-mindedly playing with his/her keys at some point - showed a detachment of sorts.

This piece has a lawyer interviewing her client for a very important trial. The client has been accused of rape and murder - very serious crimes. Blablabla. So it is up to the lawyer to get the accused to open up. The theme is sex/porn addiction and Aqasha played the engineer like a real addict - his tics were made to be very obvious and his rubbing of the hands and foot-tapping conveyed an uneasy energy.

This could easily have been Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, or Alan Moore's Rorschach and his therapist in the Watchmen comic book.

A simple psychological thriller where the prisoner/authority figure or patient/healer roles can be reversed midway, with sex as the core theme.

However, what we get were merely glimpses of it and what could have been, from the script.

Then came the intermission and when the stage is ready again, the audience was in for a treat.

I have seen Laut Lebih Indah Dari Bulan. For the life of me, I couldn't be sure if it was Mislina Mustaffa who performed it those years ago(CORRECTION: Bulan was played by Marlenny Irwan in 2008 and by Junaidah Lojong in 2006. Some sources told me this just now). My apologies if my memory has started its inevitable decay and I can't fact check at 3am by calling some people. But I know what this piece was going to be - a treat.

I had doubts about Sofia Jane before watching the show, though. I mean, she's beautiful. The Bulan character I knew is an earthy woman who was once quite pretty and still retained her sensuous attraction, but has been weathered by the ravages of time and abuse.

Sofia Jane is still pretty. She would need to look like the Leha of the first 10 minutes or so of Perempuan, Isteri Dan.... Could she?

When she started, Bulan was talking just a bit faster. Just a half-step faster than what I believe would be perfect. But credit to the actor, she drew the audience into her world and her story. The energy soon settled down into a slow but intense burn, which is perfect for Bulan.

Aku Nak Jadi Bintang is about desire as poison and those who drinks it readily. Laut Yang Tenang is about addiction, perhaps, and maybe delusion. The story of Laut Lebih Indah Dari Bulan is the ultimate victim story. A woman who was the victim of society, her family, religion, the media, the world, even the man she loves. And she conveys the hurt without being whiny - which is a credit to the text as well as the performer.

Sofia Jane easily delivered a sympathetic performance and even managed to connect with the audience enough to get them to laugh at some jokes in the middle of this tragedy.

Overall, a very good show and I am glad I went to see it. It was brilliant.

I wonder... if Namron could convince Ijat to do Lembu and Md Eyzendy to do Matderihkoloperlih - two other pieces which are some of the best in minimalist theatre I have seen staged in Malaysia. Maybe after they get back from taking the Teater Kompilasi to not-so-distant shores?