Thunderstorm is your loud and suspenseful soap opera staged in an era of corruption, miner strikes and a generous amount of star-crossed lovers.
The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat
Director & Executive Producer: Dato’ Faridah Merican
Artistic Director: Joe Hasham OAM
Assistant Director: Freddy Tan
Written by: Tsao Yu
Translated by: Wang Tso-Liang and A.C. Barnes
Adapted by: Mark Beau de Silva
Set Designer & Builder: Paul Hasham
Costume Designer: Dominique Devorsine
Lighting Designer: Yusman Mokhtar
Sound Designer: Mike Thomas
Originally a Chinese drama masterpiece written by Tsao Yu, this version of Thunderstorm is translated by Wang Tso-Liang & A.C. Barnes and adapted by Mark Beau de Silva. The leading lady of Malaysia’s theatre scene, Dato’ Faridah Merican is the director and executive producer. Thunderstorm tells the story of Cho Pu-Yuan who is the head of a wealthy, successful and a deceivingly happy family who happens to be in the midst of an encroaching monsoon season (in both the literal and figurative sense). The tale slowly brings another family into the picture – a more impoverished family who works for the Cho’s – and as these two worlds collide, the intrigues that are characteristic of rich, corrupted families start to unravel.
All-in-all, Thunderstorm’s story is enticing in its potential. It turns the dramatic up to 11, has beautiful props & stage set, taking us back to the early 20th century with its decor and costumes. Besides that, the adaptation does not change the original story except for the localized setting where instead of China the wealthy mansion, the mines, etc. are based in Ipoh. The lack of any change to the original script is a double-edged sword. Although it captures the essence of the time-setting, the historical drama came off as slightly contrived and opaque. The original subtext of the play resonated with many in China during that time period (it is after all, hailed as one of the prominent plays in China pre-Japanese Invasion in the early 20th century) because it carries with it a message of class struggle. It was a powerful image at that time to see a wealthy family fall to shambles amidst an atmosphere of rebellion. Now, it feels dated, but not without its wonderful moments of Shakespearean-Grecian tragedy & grandeur.
Whatever the perception one might have about the script, the acting falls a bit on the lackluster side when it comes to truly capturing the rhythm of the play. The brothers, Chou Ping and Chou Chung (played by Brian Chan and Tan Li Yang respectively) leave a lot to be desired, while Ho Lee Ching, who plays a young woman torn between the two families, unfortunately came off as monotonous at times. If any acting should be credited in this play, the accolades would go to the intimidating gravitas of Patrick Teoh who plays the male patriarch, Chou Pu-Yuan. He nuances between being a scary megalomaniac to a vulnerable figure looking for meaning excellent. Carmen Soo also deserves applause for her role as Chou Fan-Yi, showing her acting chops through a character that straddles the line of psychotic but desperate – a milestone away from her previous musical, Cabaret. Mark Beau de Silva‘s struts with comic relief in his role as Lu Kuei, punctuating the tension with timely humour.
Thunderstorm with all its failings, still brings a memorable atmosphere onto the stage. The building sense of dread piles up with the sound of thunder and ominous scoring. The big reveal at the end is decently executed too, capturing the essence of drama well with bone-rattling shrieking and powerful images of defeat. Thunderstorm still gave us an enjoyable time, but whether or not it breathes new life to the original script or stands as a masterpiece is a question that can’t be definitively answered.