MUD: The Story of Kuala Lumpur is a musical production that has been going on for the past three years almost every day without fail. On the 30th April, they will be having their 2000th show at Panggung Bandaraya. It may spell the end of the stage production at the venue, but the play lives on in more ways than one.
MUD tells a story of humble beginnings. Three friends look for a livelihood in Kuala Lumpur, c. 1857 onwards, while persevering through life’s adversities and appreciating their differences. Although it has its heart-rending moments, MUD is overall a feel-good performances, that preaches a message of unity through diversity and overcoming the cruelest of odds, without beating you on the head with it. It’s personal, and at the same time grand in the history it conveys. If you’re looking for the full review, click here. Today, however, we talked to some of the actors and ask them why MUD is more than just a play.
Mohd Fauzuly Hamdan Tahir, who plays Pak Itam in MUD, is a veteran in theatre scene. With roles in P. Ramlee the Musical and Puteri Gunung Ledang, he is no less than an experienced actor through and through. As Pak Itam, he plays a comical character that interacts with the audience. Here he recounts his personal journey for the past 3 years. “What makes MUD really memorable for me is that this is my first production ever with a multiracial cast, where I don’t feel there are any gaps between us. The feeling of bonding is there. Even when it comes to joking around, all of us can accept whatever’s being thrown – no one is oversensitive. Even when it comes to religion, we all respect each other. It’s hard to find that anywhere else.”
Prem Sagar Krishnan plays Muthiah in MUD. He has spent many years doing dance dramas for Temple of Fine Arts yet also shows great prowess in his theatre acting in this play. “In the past 3 years, what sticks with me, has always been the people. There are too many things to talk about when it comes to what I cherish, but what comes out to me is how everyone is family here. You know how some people say you have a second home outside your home? Yeah, I feel like this has been my home more than my actual home.”
“..You know how some people say you have a second home outside your home? Yeah, I feel like this has been my home more than my actual home.” – Prem Sagar Krishnan
MUD is unique in the sense that it brings together these actors on a daily basis. It is probably one of its kind, where the actors work on a full-time basis. As a tourism product, it is necessary to tell the story every single day to anyone interested to be entertained or to learn more about the history of our capital. But it never feels like tacky, overdone or mass-produced, and is thoughtful in every aspect. “When you see each other every day, and you become close, there’s a sense of chemistry”, said Prem. “We don’t have to tell anyone to do. It’s like Bluetooth. The moment the music starts everyone just does their thing.”
From the stellar performances, you can see it is a byproduct of dedication and diligence from all members of the production, but there were many lighthearted moments too. “It’s safe to say, that we prank each other almost everyday”, said Fauzuly. “A lot of spontaneous moments. Like that scene that happened just now, where my daughter flirts with you? (The writer was called on stage to be a part of the interactivity) That was entirely random”.
More than a history lesson, MUD is also an immersive experience. Members of the audience are called on to the stage to act with the cast members during specific scenes too, ensuring that the story is not only told, but felt. “There was this one time, a 3-year-old was on stage and during the Pak Itam scene he started shouting “Oi!” so the audience started laughing. These things happen all the time, we weren’t disturbed by it at all. It’s always a happy feeling when people react to us.”
As a Mandarin-speaker, Fauzuly talks about handling tourists from China. “Sometimes what happens is that, while we are acting, they start talking onstage in their mother tongue so we had to learn to control it. Because I play more interactive scenes, I had to learn to change the focus.”
Then there are the audience members that get too involved. “There were people who would get really excited because we called them out to dance. They get super-excited, like “Oh I’m so happy you called me!“”
Besides the stage at Panggung Bandaraya , the cast of MUD have also performed in other spaces too for corporate shows, mall showcases and award shows a well. “For that, you have to be like a chameleon. Learn to adapt to what they can give you”, said Fauzuly. “It’s always about ensuring that we give out the same energy”, Prem added.
In order to create an educational experience, the actors first had to educate themselves. “When we first came in, our director, (Amsalan Doraisingam) brought snippets of newspapers and very old photographs. From the very beginning we had a clear picture of what our world would look like on stage. The way the characters were molded were based upon our personality, so whatever you see on stage is not fake. It’s real, because it’s us.”
Fauzuly remarked, “I also get extra paranoid whenever I’m given a role, so I do a lot of research myself. I found out a lot of Malays in Kuala Lumpur come from Western Sumatera. And I also like to give everyone backstories”. Prem added while laughing, “What’s funny about the whole cast is that everyone’s backstory is that their parents are dead. Some of the parents were eaten by tigers. So everyone has to stay at Pak Itam’s house and that’s why we are all close”.
Amidst the feel-good vibe of the production, the gravity of the message it conveys is far from negligible. It is a story with meaning, that is very much relevant to Kuala Lumpur today. “I think the lesson is what we show you on stage, is exactly what we are backstage. It is not acting. Sometimes they come and ask us, “I feel like you’re not acting. I can see you really love each other on stage”. I’ve read people who say on comment sections “Thank you for giving me hope, I think I want to stay in Malaysia.”. It’s nice that we are able to translate how we feel for each other to other people. I hope people take away this unity, even through the fights, we try and amend and repair, and go through all of this together. Sometimes, it’s the little things. Like children who come to our staging and it is imprinted in their minds that “Oh I can make friends from other races, not just friends from my own race“. In the world outside, I feel like it is very one-track-minded, like things can only be a certain way. Malaysia is in a place where everybody is fighting, so I have to fight. Everyone’s fighting with each other, one way or another, so it’s up to us. Why not we be the difference?”
Fauzuly adds, “If we were to relate MUD with Kuala Lumpur now, you can see people are more divided. It’s not unbelievable, we are a multiracial country. But I think the biggest challenge is technology. People sometimes spread untrue stories on social media. They read the titles, but they don’t actually read the articles sometimes. It’s all because of technology. What’s missing is an awareness of our origins. We’re missing that bond that transcends our differences. What MUD does is we show to tourists that come this is what real Malaysia is like. If in the past we can come together, we can do it again today”.
“…What’s missing is an awareness of our origins. We’re missing that bond that transcends our differences.” – Fauzuly
Prem and Fauzuly perfectly captures why, even if this play goes on for a millionth more time, it would always be relevant to the heart of who we are as Malaysians. “I think the good thing about MUD is that it’s very subtle”, said Prem, “there are no scenes where we blatantly say ‘Oh this is an Indian, this is a Malay, look they’re getting along’, we simply portray to the audience that we’re brothers, and that’s good enough”.
So what are you waiting for? Bring your entire family or your group of friends. Whether you’re looking for a laugh, a sense of purpose, but all-in-all walk away from a play with something resounding forever in your heart, MUD is still showing at Panggung Bandaraya until the 30th of April. 5 days left is on the calendar until another important piece in Malaysian history leaves the stage. There are shows in the afternoon and at night. You can get your tickets here.
As we say our goodbyes, Fauzuly adds, “I don’t like to think of this as an ending. I think it’s more of like a beginning to something more”. Whether it’s the Great Fire or Flood of Kuala Lumpur, racial disharmony or economic recession – the sentence speaks truth not just to MUD as a performance piece, but the value it leaves behind to anyone who watches it.