Performance Reviews Uncategorized

Mak Yong Titis Sakti: The beauty of mak yong grounded with hilarious slapstick (Review)

Mak Yong Titis Sakti brings mak yong to a larger, more contemporary stage – but does it manage to hold up the magic of the tradition while being relevant at the same time?

Executive Producer: Dato’ Faridah Merican
Artistic Director: Joe Hasham OAM
Director: Norzizi Zulkifli
Choreographer: Zamzuriah Zahari
Music Director: Kamrul Hussin
Set Designer: Bayu Utomo Radjikin
Costume Designer: Nur Afifi Mohamed Taib
Featuring: Mardiana Alwi,Ezdianie Hayatie Omar, Zamzuriah Zahari, Asrulfaizal Kamaruzaman, Rosdeen Suboh, Shahanaros Shahruddin, Safia Hanifah, Putri Hanan Shahidah, Elza Irdalynna,Rosnan Rahman and Siti Farrah Abdullah.

Mak Yong Titis Sakti  in all of its essence, is a story about love in all of its different forms using the tale Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The play in most parts attempts to bring the contrasting elements of East and West  through the language of the characters (some speak in Shakespearean while others speak Kelantanese and KL Malay) . The combination also comes in the preservation of character roles from the original Shakespeare, and the general plot. But predominantly, it celebrates the enthusiasm of Mak Yong; ritualistic music and a lot of spirited improvisation from the actors. Director Norzizi Zulkifli, through her vision, transformed the enigmatic theatrical nature of Mak Yong into a piece that translates an otherwise inaccessible play like A Midsummer Night’s dream’s story into a stylish and familiar take. For people not familiar with the Kelantanese dialect, the beautiful choreography by the acclaimed Zamzuriah Zahari and the improvisational humour of Asrulfaizal Kamaruzaman and Rosdeen Suboh keeps your attention sufficiently drawn to what would otherwise have been empty mystique.

As is with the original Shakespeare, Mak Yong Titis Sakti is gratuitously comedic. Thankfully, the slapstick humour works stupendously in the context of a world where everything is whimsical and manic. Through elements of quasi-narration, as characters who are often outside looking in, the two fairies played by Asrulfaizal and Rosdeen brought relevance to the play through their joint performance. Truly, the highlights of Mak Yong Titis Sakti. The costumes that adorned the actors were also resplendent, from the red frame-and-fabric worn by the flower dancer that holds the Titis Sakit, to the glorious war-regalia worn by Zamzuriah Zahari as the King of Fairies, all beautifully designed by Nur Afifi. The production preserves the historical context of mak yong in other aspects too, including putting women in more prominent roles. An art form where the origin is not celebrated enough paints a picture of progressiveness that is so empowering, it really is a great sight to behold, especially with Zamzuriah Zahari’s iron-fisted role as the King.

Remarking on the story itself would simply just be a review on A Midsummer Night’s Dream – any in-depth deconstruction would be redundant. The choice to make some characters speak Shakespearan English and others Kelantanese or textbook Malay is odd at first, but somehow fitting. It creates space for punchlines revolving around some characters suddenly bursting into English (“Yang ni mesti cakap bahasa Inggeris”, one of the fairies said as he anticipates the magical flower to finally speak). Moments of self-awareness (or meta) such as this allows for the director, Norzizi, to poke fun at Shakespearan text, and possibly the superfluous nature of classic plays by bringing it home through colloquial and informal Malay comedy.

The slapstick humour works stupendously in the context of a world where everything is whimsical and manic

Any mak yong set would be incomplete without amazing sound design, and Kamrul Hussin ensured that the instruments, voices come together to punctuate the many different sceneries of the kayangan and also to accompany the ritualistic dances like Menghadap Rebab. In fact, the entire musical ensemble is what illustrates the kayangan world of Mak Yong Titis Sakti with such psychedelic precision. That being said, it is unfortunate that instead of being part of the act itself on the same level as the actors and their stories, they are half-concealed behind drapes. Where the musical ensemble is also meant to be a star in mak yong, they unfortunately are relegated to a position of ambivalence.

However, none of which turned out to be a major disruption to the overall enjoyment of the play. All attempts at reviving the mak yong tradition flew to high ranks, by preserving the prayer recited by the pak yong in the beginning, the haunting ethereal sounds of the rebab, the seamless choreography. But the feeling that much of what could be was inadvertently detached by the big stage of Pentas 1 is unshakeable. Mak Yong has always been a more up-close, communal affair, where the dances are to be witnessed from a short distance as every detail is visible, or as the improvisation of actors engaging with the audience affects all of viewers and not just the lucky few in the front.

Well on the other hand, maybe the big stage would be the resounding bell for a future of more mak yong appreciation. As the crowd of many races and backgrounds have a good time watching the play, their peals of laughter jabs at the ban imposed on the mak yong dance back in its own home state. More than animism, or ritualistic roots, Mak Yong Titis Sakti proves yet again, 8 years after its last production, that mak yong is a platform to tell all sorts of stories – all of our stories.



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