Performance Performing Arts

Review: Mahsuri (Liver and Lung Productions, 2016)

Young, independent theatre-makers piece together Malay folklores into proud, contemporary musical.

Book by Shafeeq Shajahan | Music by Shafeeq Shajahan & Ian Nathaniel
Starring Badrika Bahadur, Phraveen Arikiah, Nabilah Hamid, Iz Sulaini & Badrish Bahadur

A young boy is uneasy at his sister’s workplace, so she makes him read a storybook. He doesn’t understand why these stories are so dark; every time he finishes one he is overwhelmed. And how could he not, for each time he reads them he conjures these characters and their tragedies around him! Threading together four tales based on mythical female figures, Liver and Lung Productions presented a musical called Mahsuri (and other peculiar stories) at Melt’On Cafe, Subang Jaya last weekend. Told in contemporary English, the stories of Mahsuri, Bawang Putih Bawang Merah, Puteri Lindungan Bulan and Pontianak explode with music and colour thanks to the production’s committed, vigorous actors and stellar compositions. Though delightfully corny in bits — “Mom’s a fish,” joyfully sings a camp Iz Sulaini as Bawang Putih, “I’m a fish,” responds Nabilah Hamid as his mother — Mahsuri (and other peculiar tales) is a largely dramatic affair due to each story’s respective twists. It’s not all fun and games either; director Shafeeq Shajahan sets Pontianak during British rule in order to take pot shots at colonialism, while recurring lines about heaven and death ring throughout the musical’s 110-minutes. Some steam dissipates during the production’s second half, caused by a drop in pacing which accompanies more serious themes, not to mention rare flickers of disingenuousness in writing. But smartly-crafted and rich with ideas, Mahsuri (and other peculiar stories) makes an irresistable proposition — great musical theatre can exist away from the stage, and perhaps even in your own neighbourhood coffee joint.

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Mahsuri (And Other Peculiar Tales) was held at Melt’On Cafe, Subang Jaya from 27 to 29 May 2016. For more information, check out Facebook or read our previous write-up in which we talked to director Shafeeq about the show!

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