Performance Reviews

REVIEW: Joe Hasham’s take on Harold Pinter’s Betrayal is breathtaking when untranslated

It is generally understood that when it comes to artistic expression, the original language of the work is the purest. However, the localization of art can be powerful and important as well. Many great pieces are translated works, e.g. Homer’s Iliad, that stands true ’til today as cultural landmarks. It informs us of a time long gone and allows us to explore deeper into the mythos and legends of Ancient Greece. But as a poetry epic, it loses its music. Joe Hasham OAM‘s Betrayal wishes to bring Harold Pinter to a Malay audience – so the question we’re asking today is, “did it work?”

Presented by / Dipersembahkan oleh:
The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat

Executive Producer/Penerbit Eksekutif : Dato’ Faridah Merican
Artistic Director / Pengarah Artistik : Joe Hasham OAM
Lighting Designer / Pereka Tata Cahaya: Yusman Mokhtar
Sound Engineer / Jurutera Audio: Khairil Imran
Costume Designer / Pereka Kostum: Dominique Devorsine
Set Designer / Pereka Set: Paul Hasham

Cast / Pelakon: Razif Hashim, Stephanie van Driesen, Omar Ali and Jad Hidhir

If you’re interested in reading about our initial impression of the English version of the play, check out this article.

There is never a moment of Betrayal that felt mundane and stagnant. Harold Pinter’s penchant for realism means the inclusion of seemingly trite conversations, but when executed properly, actually adds to the rhythm of the storytelling. All of the actors pull this off with sleek precision, ensuring that even superficial banter about books became intense. Omar Ali’s booming and sophisticated demeanor stole the show, especially when he tiptoes around the steady, rational side of his character, Robert, and the side of him teetering on the brink of rage.

Set-wise, Joe Hasham’s Betrayal is very creative in ensuring a seamless staging. The introduction to the location is a video compilation of all the important events during the time period shown in reverse, in order to show the backwards progress of the play. As Paint It Black plays in the background, the tumultuous ’60s – 70s is captured perfectly. The major events (such as the Vietnam War riots and the Nixon  scandal) act as a contrasting backdrop to the play’s otherwise small microcosm of treachery, maybe as a way to highlight how obnoxious and self-centered the characters of the story really are.

However all of this gets somewhat lost in translation when presented in Malay. Although the script itself seems to be accurately translated, the way in which the character is presented can sometimes feel a bit disconcerting. A good example of this is Razif Hashim‘s acting in the drunken scene. In English, that scene is hilarious and pointedly charming, as you see Jerry, Razif’s character, beg for Emma’s love (Stephanie Van Driesen). In Malay, it sounds jarring and unrealistic (or maybe we’re underestimating the capability of  a man to wax puisi when intoxicated). There is one exception: when Robert psychologically probes Emma after finding out that she has received a letter from Jerry, the Malay version sounds even more piercing and angry, which makes it a scarier and more powerful scene.

It’s all about the authenticity. When you have Malay-speaking characters based in England (or Italy), the level of dissonance can be tremendous. Although it helps to understand the script, and might just be the first step for some people into getting to know Harold Pinter, a lot of things are compromised in the process. As a product to inform a Malay audience about what the content of the play is, it works. On the other hand, as a staging piece it fails  in preserving the beat of Harold Pinter’s story. Even if beat is not of utmost importance in enjoying a good play, the intention of reaching out to a Malay viewer still falls short as there is nothing about the play that can possibly be relatable. Maybe it could have been better if it was more localized: told through the framework of Pinter’s original script, but set in Malaysia where the Malay makes sense. (Although that isn’t as easy as it sounds, as is proven by another adaptation of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal).

Joe Hasham’s Betrayal is a production not to be missed. In English, at least. When the brevity is preserved, and the melody of the dialogue and the repartee is maintained, Joe Hasham does justice to this beautiful piece of dramatic theatre. Even the Malay play isn’t particularly bad. It’s not lazy and patched on like the Malay dubbing on TV9’s Spongebob Squarepants. Just takes a little bit more suspending of disbelief so that you don’t end up asking yourself “Why are they speaking Malay” over and over again throughout the play. BM Betrayal is a good example that translating a play to Malay does not necessarily make it a ‘Malay play’.

English rating: 4/5
Malay rating: 3/5

Tickets are still available if you wanna witness the play for yourself at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre! Head on to this page to get your tickets now. The last English play is on the 4th of June while the last Malay play is on the 3rd of June. 

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