A tasteful approach to a taboo topic, Pedofilia breaks boundaries even if it is less than perfect.
Teater Pedofilia is a production by Asterik Anak Seni and Waris Teater with Farah Kamsari as the producer and Qiu Qatina as the director and playwright. It was staged at Black Box, Damansara Performing Arts Centre, from the 6 April – 9 April. The premise of the play is straightforward. A child rapist is on the loose, and as the community surrounding the crime scene carry on with their lives, two policemen, played by Han Zalini and Jubang Samat seek to investigate the crime and capture the perpetrator.
What really sells the play is the scene work. The creative direction of Fendi Shah and other people involved is apparent through many aspects of the performance. There is the amazing rain effect that is done, with water dripping from the ceiling into a makeshift drain in front of the audience. The dark, reddish hue lighting that seems to envelope the ominous mood of the play felt real and breathtaking at every turn.
The abstract dance sequences that punctuate each act is powerful too. With Qiu Qatina inclination to dance, her influence is clearly present in the choreography. The movements are sensuous but disconcerting – but rightfully so, as it shows the forbidden lust in the pedophile’s heinous doings; made even more enigmatic with the mask. Although it dragged on at certain parts, overall, the interpretive dance was engaging enough to even grasp the attention of those unfamiliar to it.
The children actors gave a mesmerizing performance. Playful and adorable, yet filling you with dread as you wait for what disaster might befall them. Even during scenes of struggle the children power through them very believably – accentuated by the creepy semi-romantic score that play in the background. What stands out the most to us is the slow waltz that the pedophile rapist character does with the children as they are gagged. It makes you feel uncomfortable, but without going overtly graphic to depict such brutality.
As for the other actors, Jubang Samat‘s acting as the ‘good cop’, Inspektor Rashid, was strong and formidable. His straight edge persona and compliance with the law as he desperately fights for justice woos the crowd to cheer for him, and eventually sympathize with him too when things do not go his way. Han Zalini‘s ‘bad cop’ acting leaves a lot for wanting though. Inconsistent at best, he straddles the line between being a Joker-esque unstable psycho to your average, run-of-the-mill grump.
Many good lines were executed poorly, like when Han talks about how the greatest trick the devil has ever pulled is to convince people that he does not exist (yes, the line from the movie, The Usual Suspects) in reference to the pedophile suspect. Shaza Bae acted as Julia, a survivor with mental trauma, and portrayed her character as always at the edge of breaking. She played it decently, although sometimes her craziness is interrupted by unnecessary shrieking.
Royzaib Sugian is another praiseworthy member of the cast. His performance as the pedophile is filled with emotional nuance. He sells his role as both an innocent productive member of the community with his level-headedness, yet subsequently making you hate him with all your guts as you find out about his horrible pedophilic vice. It gets even better when you find out that he is not the pedophile rapist.
This perfectly represents the type of detail that makes Teater Pedofilia a good commentary art piece on pedophilia – it covers a variety of points in the spectrum of the problem. Royzaib’s character is a representation of people with pedophilic tendencies that do not act upon it on actual people. On the other hand you have Ahmad Ghani that also portrays his character with such sharpness and candour, even though he only speaks through his movements as he hides behind the mask. Ahmad Ghani’s character is the child rapist.
This particular facts serves more than just a plot twist, as the audience realizes that the perpetrator of all of these crimes is Julia’s husband and the father to one of the victim’s friends, symbolizing the reality that the people who commit these horrible crimes can be your close relatives; eradicating the pigeonholing myth of ‘stranger danger’. All of this again needs to be credited to Qiu Qistina, the playwright’s, interpretation of the script.
Other aspects of the play hover around in the grey. How the policemen approached a mentally traumatized survivor with such crass indecency is one of those instances, where we can’t place whether it’s subpar writing or simply a reflection of reality – that our enforcement authorities do not know how to handle vulnerable victims.
All in all, Teater Pedofilia is an audacious piece that stands a chance at being one of the more prominent plays of this year. During the night we went to watch this play, most of the crowd would laugh at the obviously dark and macabre scenes. Granted maybe to those unfamiliar, interpretative dance can induce some fits of giggle, but what was unsettling was that the laughter continued on even during graphic scenes of struggle and outright rape.
The reason why crowd reaction is relevant to the play, is the fact that it deserves to be commended for its courageous decision to perform such an uncomfortable but serious topic to the masses who might not be mature enough to receive it. Especially when performed in the Malay language, to a predominantly Malay audience. Our tendency to laugh off what makes us uncomfortable just goes to show that a lot still needs to be done to change the mindset of our society about severe matters like rape. And with the proceeds of Teater Pedofilia’s tickets and merchandise sales going to NGOs like Protect and Save the Children, this feels like a right step in the right direction. Audacious in intent, although occasionally clumsy in execution.
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Featured image is from @asterikanakseni ‘s Instagram . Follow them to keep up to date with their productions. To donate to Protect and Save the Children and help them in the process of prevention, rehabilitation and legal counseling for survivors of rape and also for their parents or guardians, please visit their website.