It’s not often that I could afford the time to attend local plays and staged acts. Normally it would either clash with my family time, social time, working time or just so happens that I’ve overblown my spending limits for the month. I’ve always wanted to attend such events but seldom get the opportunity to do so. After last year’s “O-Glamour” play at the Arts House @ Old Parliament Building, I followed that up by watching the highly-acclaimed “P. Ramlee The Musical” as recently as last May. Having a family now means I have to be even more picky with what events I should attend. Fortunately this play came at a time when the Government has rewarded its civil servants with a half month bonus, so yeah it was a good time to have a little splurge on watching local talents strut their stuff.
I had gotten wind of this play when I was at Arab Street buying lunch a few weeks ago. Posters were pasted on the walls outside one of the eateries. The title itself intrigued me, especially when the names of the characters are those that you seldom get to hear nowadays, bearing in mind parents now love giving intricate and unique names to their newborns, me included. I had contemplated whether to go or not to go, since I wasn’t sure what other family programmes I would have in store on this particular weekend. A chance meeting with my acting mentor Abang Keatar at the gym, somehow “clinched the deal”. When I met him at the changing room, he was getting ready to go for rehearsals and he had used that short 3 minutes of conversation to promote the play and told me to come and support. I was swayed, not only because of his excellent salesman skills, but because upon checking my schedule, my Saturday night was free for this weekend.
So yes, you can say that the stars were aligned correctly for me. What’s more, the stellar cast had a few people I’ve known and rubbed shoulders with during my lifetime. It was definitely the perfect time to have a little rendezvous with people you’ve not met for quite a long time, even if your meeting was confined to meeting them for a few minutes after the show ended. Anyway, apologies for the rather long-winded introduction to this entry. This review won’t delve into the technical aspects as I’m not a theatre person nor expert to give such intricate views. I’m speaking only based on my experience watching the show, so please don’t sue me if you are a theatre expert.
For those who have not heard of this play nor read about it in the local papers, Kisah Cinta Romzi & Juleha (The Love Story of Romzi & Juleha) by Teater Kami, was adapted from William Shakespeare‘s all-time literature classic “Romeo & Juliet“. I’m sure we all know the whole storyline to this epic tale, having read about it in our school syllabus. We even had that movie adaptation starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes or the one with the slight twist; “Romeo Must Die“, starring Jet Li and the late Aaliyah. With that in mind, it makes the job of my review easier without me having to relate the whole storyline from start till the end. But of course recreating the original piece would have been a real bore. This play was meant for the target audience of our community. Naturally, it had to have a flavour that we all could relate to. Best of all, it transported us back to half a century ago where racial riots were the norm here in our beloved country, something that we only heard of, but never truly experienced.
Shahril is still the same humble guy I know since 1994. We used to play football together since we lived in the same neighbourhood and even though we’re more like acquaintances than friends, that never stopped us from always having a cordial relationship and now that he’s already a somebody, his humility and attitude has never once changed. The scrawny little boy I used to know has immense talents. A pity his role in Evolusi KL Drift was a minor one.
In place of the classic Capulet & Montague rivalry, we had the Javanese and Baweanese version. During our grandparents’ time, such despise between the two dialect clans were evident and till now there is still a bit of resentment for those whose mentalities are still trapped in years of yore. Rather than hearing the normal 50s speak that you normally get to hear when watching a P. Ramlee classic, we were treated to a variety of Javanese and Baweanese vocabulary. Indeed, I was immersed by the way they conversed till I felt as though I was transported back in time. Never mind, that the venue (Esplanade Theatre Studio) was a small and humble one, but the limited space that they had was used to the maximum. Granted, the props were simple and it is this minimal factor which added a little more colour to an astounding play. Even the various backdrops that you would normally associate with photographs taken from the National Archives of Singapore told a story of its own and brought to life the scenes that were being played.
As for the acting, what I can say is that most, if not all of them deserved a standing ovation. Each character portrayal was executed to the maximum. I am sure that the sold-out audience would agree with me when I say that Dalifah Shahril who acted as Mak Mah and Firdaus who was Tahjudeen were the glaring stand outs; the former for her comic role and the latter for being the asshole that you would really want to whack if you had your way. They were that damn good in their roles, but so too were the rest. It was easy for everyone to forget that the roles that Shahril (Romzi) and Sheba Rai (Juleha) played were that of teenagers still wet behind the ears when it comes to love. But I think they portrayed the innocence of youth pretty well. And it certainly opened my eyes with regards to early marriage back in those days. Can you imagine someone getting married as young as 13 or 14 in these times, taking away the possibility of a shotgun marriage???
Even though the ending was to be expected, I had still hoped for a little more twist with perhaps a happier ending for both. The Maria Hertog incident that was thrown into the mix merely added as a pleasant distraction but evidently, it showed that for all the various petty squabbles the various clans had with each other, it took something of a religious magnitude to unite them and that is one of the beauties of Islam; to break down barriers between chastes, classes and colours. Perhaps the only grouse I had, if any, was Romzi‘s parents Masnawi & Marpo’ah played by my old friend Hazriq and Shasha. I just felt that they were too young, in physical speak, to be playing his parents especially when their Javanese counterpart in the play, Cikgu Karman (Abang Keatar) had the look of an aged man with authority. Maybe I still haven’t gotten away from reality that these guys are young themselves. But really, you can’t find much fault with the way they acted, just that I still see them as who they are in real life.
With Hazriq & Abang Keatar… Hazriq remarked, “So this is gonna be another review eh bro???” He definitely knows his old friend’s style by now… 😛
Oh and speaking of Abang Keatar, who is also known as Cikgu Kamal from Bara fame, this was an amazing comeback after 10 years away from acting in a play. But from what we all saw, it seemed as though he never left. Seeing and hearing him raised his voice at Juleha in one of the scenes brought me back to those times we had during our acting classes. This guy is extremely passionate with what he does and he expects everyone to be disciplined and serious during lessons. He will scream or raise his voice at you if you overstep the line and I’ve seen him do that a few times. But once class ends, he is such a joker that you can’t help but miss this guy’s company as time goes by. That scene where he rubbed his nipples by the window was purely him in his joking element and I instantly remarked to my wife: “That’s trademark Abang Keatar!!!” Naturally, it left the audience in stitches.
I am proud to say that the play was an enjoyable one. 2 hours and 15 minutes passed by so fast that you thought that you’ve only sat there for about an hour and a half. The props were simple and humble, the play itself was light-hearted without being too technical nor deep for the general audience to enjoy. It goes to show that even without the heady razzmatazz that we all saw during the P. Ramlee The Musical play, a play could be done so successfully if all its actors play out their roles magnificently and leave an indelible impression on its audience. I take my hat off to the whole crew at Teater Kami for a job well done and to Ms Atin Amat for directing such a beautiful piece. The sell out crowd was testament to a play done so well and I hope that more people will come and support the theatre scene as we all have excellent talents to show for, some even better than those manufactured ones you get from reality shows…