Teater Kelas Tambahan (which means Additional School Classes) happened last weekend at DPAC. As one of the receiver of the DPAC Venue Sponsorship award, the production was produced by Laman Artisan, a theatre group originating from all the way up south, lead by director/writer Haris Hazizan of Universiti Teknologi Petronas.
A Malay murder mystery, really?
Described as a murder mystery (although the exact phrase was never used in any marketing material, that is, if anyone saw much marketing material), Kelas Tambahan takes place in a kelas tambahan (duh), where 5 students, Melissa, Alisa, Ikmal, Faizal, and Jason, are attending Puan Leha’s Additional Mathematics tuition class. We all been to one of those, I’m sure. The second day, Ikmal did not turn up for class and then, jeng jeng jeng, was found dead in the boys’ toilet. The plot then follows the investigation of his death.
If you have been to many university theatre productions, you will be accustomed to 2 things: one, the lateness of the show starting time; and two, the dramatic audience’s responses. These 2 things will affect your mood and how much you enjoy the play, depending on which show you end up going. I, fortunately, went to a good one.
Despite starting 30 minutes later than the time on the poster, the show would not have been as enjoyable if there were many latecomers, and if the house was not at least half full. Perhaps due to the cast, many supporting family members and friends, whom I believe aren’t regular theatre goers, came to the show. In my 30 minutes of waiting in my seat, almost impatiently, I managed to hear the chit-chats of the coming audiences, and boy, they are EXCITED. They thought they are in for a good laugh, for a fun night. They thought this was one of those slapstick Malay theatre performance they are used to seeing in their universities. One of them even suggested that the whole family should clap when their brother appears on stage.
And I was sooo relieved, and glad, that when the show (finally) started, it started dark, with a single spotlight on Ikmal (played by Nabil Musawir). From the speaker we hear news sound clips, of bully cases all over the world. It included one of the recent suicide that happened here, of the girl who was accused of stealing her teacher’s smartphone. As the recording played, I heard the audience’s murmurs disappear, and I felt their breaths weighed down, knowing that they are now watching something serious.
Fresh talents playing close-to-hearts characters
We learn of Ikmal, the student mentor of the school, who gets the highest mark all the time. Ikmal is timid, and slightly naive, making him an easy bully victim. Newcomer Nabil Musawir who won the Newcomer Award at last year’s Short+Sweet Festival, held our empathy with his controlled physicality, his slightly lame foot, his stutter, and his constantly bowed down head. His performance at the festival last year was so-so for me, and perhaps the limited lines he had in this play gave him a restriction that forces him to work with only what he can, and that gave birth to Ikmal.
Coming second in class, was Melissa, his once best friend, now a nemesis, who reminds us all of that kiasu fella we all have in our class. The one who will argue over a single question with the teacher because she wants that 1 extra mark. And why? Because she’s 1 mark less to an A+. Do you have a friend in mind now?
Imagine Christine Liew as her. Props to Haris Hazizan because Christine, as well as the other actors, were casted suitably well for their looks. A Theatre For Young People graduant, Christine played Melissa astoundingly. Her energy was great, keeping us on the hate train for the kiasu girl she potrayed during the first homework discussion scene. Although Christine may have overdone it a little with the table flipping scene, and dragged it too much in the email deleting scene, Melissa will be a memorable character in the audience’s mind for a long time.
My favourite character, will be Faizal, who is the bad boy of the class. Played by Emeir Faez, Faizal is the typical naughty kid aka mat rempit of our school lives. He beats up people, he dates hot girls, and he likes causing chaos in class. Faizal’s character was perfected by Haris’s funny lines, and like all the other characters in this play, Faizal has layers. It is difficult to give layers to characters in a play like this, where they are made based on stereotypes – the nerd, the kiasu, the bitch, the bad boy, the prefect – but Haris subtly succeed in this. I see Faizal as the pain in every teachers’ ass when he talks back to Teacher Leha in class, as much as I see Faizal as the many 17-year-olds who chased after me in school, when he tried winning Alisa’s heart back. At last, I see Faizal embodying the many bullies we are reading about in the news right now- young, brash, hot blooded, and sadly, cruel – when he beats up Ikmal till he’s half dead.
As for Timmy Ong who played Jason, I feel like he plays the same character whenever I see him. But here, Jason is a character made for Timmy. Of course, it helps that this is the better murder mystery for Timmy to be in *coughs THE RETREAT coughs*. Newcomer Liyana Faisal was saved by her looks and slight American accent, as somehow these work for the character of Alisa. The teacher, played by Ferlynda Fazleen, plays the stereotypical Malay teacher to every single details that you just gotta love her. In my favourite scene, Teacher Leha just saw the dead body of Ikmal and rushed in to the class panickly, yet by professionalism, she carefully instructs the students to gather at the front gate so she can make sure they are safe. The honesty, reality, and suspense in this scene was superbly done.
I was a little disappointed with the investigating officer though. Played by Aizuddin Rosli, the investigation scenes were a downer and dragged down the energy of the play each time they happen. Aizuddin tries too hard with too many gestures, and unbelievable choices. Many times, he was saved by his co actor and his lines.
It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to kill one
Underneath the witty lines, relatable throwback references, and good storytelling, Haris’ message for Kelas Tambahan is huge – that it takes a village to kill a child. In the end (spoiler alert), we found out that Ikmal cut himself and committed suicide because of all the pressure surrounding him. The study buddy who stabs his back, the new girlfriend who uses him, the best friend who betrays his trust, the bully, and the teacher who could have cared. They all participated and contributed to his death.
Despite his amateur directing and safe audio/visual choices, Haris Hazizan’s Kelas Tambahan is refreshing and very much enjoyable to me. The language may be difficult for some (although I believe you will be fine if you went to a government high school), but its simplicity is what we need to reach out to new audiences.
I take a look at the house that night, and I see the faces of the many people who are very satisfied with the show. I then realised how much I miss narrative scripts like this. Of course, it is great that we are levelling up with more physical/experimental medium of theatre. But at one point, I wish we all will just stop pretending and go back to the theatre we all started with – one that focuses on raw stories. Raw stories reach audiences, and we need more audience. Beyond that, we need good scripts, especially good Malay scripts.
Overall Experience: 8.5/10
All photos taken from Laman Artisan Facebook page.