Everyone tells you so – ‘This place is huge!’, but nothing can prepare you for the real dimensions of Kuala Lumpur. Living in KL is a bit like living in a gigantic box of Monopoly. The toy cars, you move them from your smartphone via Grab, and the small local currency, it ends up fast. Getting to this particular location, makes no exception.
For Time Out, KLPac – Kuala Lumpur Performing arts centre is one of the ten ‘must see’ in the Malaysian megalopolis. Formerly a railway warehouse, and a long history of abandonment and restructuring, the building has been impeccably converted since 1995, and currently houses two performance, and nine rehearsal venues.
Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham have been inhabiting the space since then, giving life to the first privately run theatre in Malaysia: The Actor’s Studio @Plaza Putra; and in ten years they have multiplied the cultural offering together with some local partners. Workshops, shows, a small library, conferences, art therapy, orchestra.
The architectural experience is worth a visit. The current billboard, and its three Shakespearean choices, even more. The occasion is a very free adaptation of the Midsummer Night’s Dream in Kelantan dialect, with some lines in Malay-English. Mak Yong Titis Sakti is not new: its debut dates back to 2009, and whilst it has already been included in the Asian Intercultural Shakespeare Archive, it returns as a classic for the local public.
Norzizi Zulkifli, – a woman, a Muslim, a former television actress, winner of numerous awards, brings in her direction some cultural topoi that are worth telling. Typical dance in this fragment of land, the ‘mak yong’ seems to be an exemplary metaphor of a geographical location that holds India and Indonesia together; and nothing begins to happen on stage before a real blessing.
Ritual elements found its history, the passage into the world where the spirits live, that very much resembles to the ‘green space’ imagined by Shakespeare. Especially in this plot. The hands of the dancers, – with the function of a choir, arch themselves in a particularly tiring posture, perhaps to orientate the entrance into that other dimension.
Titis Sakti is a fairytale character, a little fairy and a little flower, silent but acted here, along the various clumsy spells foreseen by the original. The cast, – entirely female, except for the Malay-comedy version of Puck, which is not one but two here, works well. The first part is not easy to follow: completely committed to improvisation, it is fun, though, for the hilarious reactions of the public.
The king of fairies – played by a woman in a silver dress illuminated by a red light, orders the two servants to interfere with the unfortunate guests of the enchanted forest. And some partially understandable segments seem to allude to some maniacal habits of the Malaysians, in particular the almost pathological use of the smartphone. More than in other parts of the world.
The second part is the most Shakespearean, and understandable. The light turns into green again. And the triple, mysterious, nature of love the director is interested in, – the perfect love, the forbidden love (with a very unlucky father chasing his daughter armed with a lantern), and the unrequited love, manifests with almost danced interludes in the form of quarrels, and whiny lamentations.
«To face the truth about love, an enquiry into magic is required. No reason. No common sense. No intellectual needs. Love does not need any justification, since you alone get to deal with the emotions that mysteriously run through your veins, affecting heart pumping, and body vibration. From hatred to love, and from love to hatred, all this involves a magic of some sort».
The eventual result is a musical that is also a therapeutic session, especially for the local women, veiled and not, and expats like me who have chosen Malaysia to investigate the mysteries of the above. Doing it at the end of the world, lost in translation, becomes almost a prayer. And I receive with gratitude the final blessings that, in the white light, thank the spirits of the theatre.