Performance Reviews

How the Cliches in Tales from Amma’s Kitchen were Curried Out Well (REVIEW)

 Tales from Amma’s Kitchen is a series of 10 short scenes/plays written by Fa Abdul and presented by Big Nose Productions. The show ran for 3 days in the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. Unlike their previous Tales from the Bedroom and Tales from the Jamban series, Tales from Amma’s Kitchen happen all in the same household with connecting characters, although the scenes were not entirely chronological.

Fa Abdul’s writings are hit-and-miss for me, especially her pieces in the Short+Sweet Festival. I do enjoy her Bedroom stories, but not so much her Jamban catastrophe. Read my review for the latter here. I went into the theatre expecting to cringe, but I didn’t. I actually had fun. Despite the cliches of Amma’s kitchen, some things in the script are worth serious discussions. Here are my reasons why.

 

1) Malaysians love sitcoms, but don’t get enough of them

amma's kitchen
Amma, her son Raju and his Chinese girlfriend, Mei Ling (played by Wei Ling Tan).

Sitcoms do not stop being a trend in Hollywood, but strangely it did here. Gone are the golden days of our beloved tv comedies such as Spanar Jaya, Kopitiam, and Senario (the better older ones, at least). Now, the closest thing we have to that is Oh! My English, and that’s only good enough for kids. Although many of you may not agree with bringing the sitcoms to theatre (WE HAVE THAT IN YOUTUBE! AND STAND UP COMEDY! AND LATE NIGHT RTM TV!), there is an entire population of the country that loves watching it live, and Amma’s Kitchen 3 sold out houses are proofs to that. (Of course, Maharaja Lawak is another proof, but let’s not go there.)

It is a different experience to be able to watch sitcoms live, and since theatre is becoming the in-thing (is it? I do hope it is), why not do it here? As much as we love our abstract Becketts, Pinter and Shakespeares, I am open to having some non-critical good laughs at the theatre, too.

2) We rarely see “Malaysian” characters on stage

amma's kitchen
Amma and her 3 children.

How often do we get to see Malaysians playing Malaysians on stage? How often are they an entire family of Indians? As shown by the success of klpac T4YP’s Still Taming and Enfiniti Academy’s Ola Bola, we know that Malaysian stories and characters attract crowds. In Amma’s Kitchen, we have a typical Indian family that consists of Amma (Narinder Kaur), her two daughters, Gayatri (Felicia Samuel) and Jyothi (Tilottama Pillai), and her special manja son, Raju (Mithran Balakrishnan). Post show, I talked to some Indian friends and audiences from the show, and their eyes lit up with the joy of finding themselves on that stage. They have the same family problems, and their mothers even said the same lines as Amma. What’s more beautiful about this play is that the Indian cast is complex and more than just caricatures or quotas to fill in diversity gaps. They are complicated and nuanced.

Despite some of these lines being cliches, the comedy and direction worked well and put it in a good place. Hence, I laughed instead of cringed.

 

3) Fa Abdul wrote for her peers, but millenials laughed too

amma's kitchen
Bunga, Amma’s maid, and Shahbudeen, the local store’s Pakistani worker.

I could understand immediately why this time it felt like Fa’s writing was relatively strong – the characters are unassumingly close to herself. Writing from the point of view of a middle aged Indian mother (based on my assumptions), she got the Indian uncles and aunties that filled Pentas 2 on her side. Noticeably from her Facebook posts, we know that Fa Abdul is young at heart. She is outspoken, she knows trends. She’s the cool mom, and that’s how she got the millenialls laughing too. These could be seen in the lines in the play, ranging from the traditional “how to cook a mutton curry” to the less popular “It is okay if you are gay, we are all God’s children”, which equally receive approving applauses from the audience.

 

4) The strong characters and ensemble

amma's kitchen
Amma and her young lover, Muthu, played by Charles Roberts.

The lines in the play may be cliches, but most of the characters are not. Amma is a traditional Indian mother who cooks great curry, but she also sleeps around. The second daughter is not married, yet is allowed to live outside on her own. Amma’s maid, Bunga (Mia Sabrina), is taught to think on her own and not blindly follow anyone’s orders. Many times, the characters surprised me especially as a maid character that society has often falsely misrepresent as servile. She gives an outside lens to the situation as an outsider looking in into our foibles as Malaysians.

Despite the show being named after Amma, it did not feel like she was the main character of the show. The scripts were written in a way that everyone plays a part in telling everyone’s story, and the audience is brought along to follow these multiple stories. The casts was generally brilliant and had great comedic timings, breathing a different life into the cliched lines.

 

All good things come to an end, but not yet

amma's kitchen
Tales from Amma’s Kitchen run for 4 more shows on 11-13 May at Penangpac.

All in all, I enjoyed myself, but the show is not perfect. For one, I did not like the transitions. Because one, they were too long, and two, I would love to see the ten pieces patched up into one big play. A couple of the pieces felt draggy and could be fitted into other pieces, and because it wasn’t exactly in order, it was like binge watching a comedy version of Black Mirror, which, can be tiring.

If you missed the KL show, Tales from Amma’s Kitchen is continuing their run at Penangpac next week. They start Friday the 11th. More info on their ticketing here.

 

Directing: 8/10

Script: 8/10

Acting: 8/10

Visuals: 6/10

Overall experience: 8.5/10

All photos courtesy of Big Nose Productions Facebook page.

1 comment

  1. Hi this was an interesting read. I am looking to cast Narinder Kaur in a short play, would you be able to provide me with a contact?

    Like

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