This weekend DPAC (Damansara Performing Arts Centre) will stage ‘ATTORNEY: Law vs Justice‘, a rare court procedural play about a man being prosecuted for kidnapping. This play will be staged by upcoming amateur production group Anomalist Production, under DPAC’s resident Venue Sponsorship programme. Anomalist Production is one of the 29 current beneficiaries of the sponsorship programme, a diverse selection of performing arts practitioners and advocates ranging from dance to theatre to poetry benefitting from DPAC’s obligation to its corporate social responsibility.
After having to decline the audition invitations, I was invited to their rehearsal to get a sneak peak of this upcoming production. Which I gleefully accepted.
ATTORNEY is an original play based on a real and ongoing trial written by Khairi Anwar, the managing director and founder of Anomalist Production. It centres around a case involving a man facing a death sentence after being prosecuted for kidnapping a child under the instruction of his employer. A law graduate from UiTM, Khairi was inspired to conceive this production after he was jaded by how mock trials were staged in his alma mater. Khairi had help from Irwan Sumadi, a fellow law graduate who is currently practicing. He helped sculpt the script by relaying his actual court experiences. Khairi’s original idea was to use a civil case and avoid the usual criminal cases of murder and bribery but Irwan suggested this current case instead.
The result is a long but absorbing two-hour play that not only faithfully depicts how criminal trials take place, but uses the court to raise questions about law and justice, truth and a person’s principles and motivations.
Khairi is a 25-year old law graduate that is not practicing. A self-confessed film aficionado, Khairi’s witnessed the inception of mock trials in UiTM along with coursemate Irwan when they started their degree. These mock trials were full scale productions organized a society made up of fellow law students, who felt that humour and satire was a novel way to introduce law to the UiTM public. While that received warm reception and widespread support due to its entertainment quality, both Khairi and Irwan felt that it was ineffective in depicting the actual law process in Malaysia.
This culture of staging mock trials caught on for a bit in fellow institutions that has a law faculty in recent years. The benefits are obvious – a well-staged mock trial will attract huge crowds and serve as a welcome respite from the daily lecture room stresses, and serves as a window to educate the public of how the law is being practiced in the courtroom. However, the balance between making it welcoming for the audiences and being faithful to the process is often the sticking point. I asked if these mock trials were faculty events.
“Not exactly. Like for UiTM, it was organized by students via the law society. Generally, these large scale mock trials are often driven by student bodies rather than the faculties, but of course with the faculty’s approval.” they explain. “It’s not that mock trials are bad; as a matter of fact it is important and necessary. But I’ve heard audiences saying ‘Oh macam ni court case kat Malaysia sebenarnya. Patut lah.’ from the audiences. I felt so bad.” Irwan adds.
Does the faculty conduct mock trials on their own, as part of their course? “Yes, ada. We have mock trials in some of our subjects, like Criminal Advocacy for example, where a mock trial is part of the coursework.” they answer. So I guess it’s just a matter of production? “Yes. It’s great that students want to do mock trials. That is proof that they are aware of its importance. Tapi from our experience we saw that it was more entertainment than education.” Khairi asserts passionately. “And that is what we want to address with ATTORNEY.”
As our mamak supper finds its way to our bellies, I asked the cast what did ATTORNEY mean to them. “It’s about honesty.” answered Laila Adila, who plays Fayizah in the play. Fayizah is a journalist for a TV station covering court cases, and her character has a specific connection to the lead character Umar Aziz. Hers is a well-written character serving as a counterpoint to Umar Aziz, and her media narratives are eloquent representations of the public. “I have almost zero experience in theatre at this level, and when I started the rehearsals the first Khairi said to me was to be honest. I didn’t quite understand him then, but eventually I’ve started realizing that if we cannot be true to ourselves, we can’t play another character. Khairi did so much to help us be honest – he even took us to actual court hearings to watch Irwan.”
“For me, this felt like a proper production. Prior to this I had joined Short and Sweet a few times and they were really memorable experiences. But I felt that it’s about time I try something longer.” Cheryl Monteiro, affectionately known as Kim to the team, chimes in. “I was a law student myself, but felt that I couldn’t do it in real life. So I got into production at Astro. Doing ATTORNEY made me feel like falling in love with law again.” Kim plays Natrah, Umar’s assistant at his law firm. Her character is the only connection the audience will have to Umar’s history and motivations.
“ATTORNEY literally saved my life. I wasn’t going anywhere and was trying to restart my life so I asked myself what is it that I had always wanted to do since I was little. And I remembered that I wanted to act. So I took the plunge with ATTORNEY. The only theatre experience I had prior was in high school.” Nikki Basharudin shares. As the daughter to travelling diplomat parents, her feeling towards belonging due to the constant travelling in her youth was evident in her recollections. “ATTORNEY is a great production; great writing, great leadership and even greater team. We are already planning what to do when it finishes so that we can still keep seeing each other.” Nikki plays Marina Iskandar, the prosecutor who is the only lawyer to have defeated Umar Aziz in a case. She has one of the best lines in the play, when she tells Umar succinctly “Sometimes those who do law don’t necessarily do justice.”
Justice. A word synonymous with law. Is there a difference?
People get confused sometimes; law is what we can or cannot do, and how we can do them. Justice is something else. Justice is about fairness. The law is set to ensure justice. But justice to one, is not justice to another. What is fair to one person may not be fair to another. This message is clearly set out in the play’s title, but is expertly inserted by Khairi and Irwan in their script. As the play progresses, we will learn more about each character, their (shared) histories and what exactly happened. And our definition of law and justice grow alongside it.
“We hope the audience will like it. At least understand what we wanted to do; be faithful to the law process in the country, and help people realize that law and justice are two different things that can – and should – go together.” Khairi shares. “I hope to do justice to those who work everyday to uphold the law in this country.” Irwan adds.
‘ATTORNEY: Law vs Justice’ is worth our time. The writing is a great example of the spirit and drive evident in many upcoming amateur theatre productions such as Anomalist Productions and Revolution Stage. Having seen and being involved in my fair share of theatre productions, seeing such a strong piece of work coming from those without a formal arts or theatre background is nothing short of admirable. ATTORNEY, and Anomalist, are deserving torch bearers of this current generation of young theatre practitioners, following their illustrious predecessors such as Instant Cafe Theatre and Playground Productions.
“When I started Anomalist, I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to share. And I wanted to do something about the film and theatre industry in the country. Right now I’m one of the last remaining founding member of Anomalist still doing this.” I wonder if it was all worth it for Khairi. “Well, there’s this funny thing. When I told my dad I wanted to act he said no and told me to do law. I eventually studied business law but didn’t practice. But with ATTORNEY, I was finally able to tell my dad that he can watch be a lawyer.” Nikki’s recollects.
Anomalist Production have come a long way since their founding in 2014. They’ve won the Audience’s Choice Award (Theatre) in the 2016 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards and have made their international debut at Singapore last year at the CEX Festival. Whether or not Nikki’s story answers that thought of mine, what is sure is that it goes a long way to doing Khairi, and Anomalist, justice.