TEATER MODULAR: Third time’s not always a charm
If you haven’t heard of Teater Modular, you must have not been around the theatre scene this past year. If you haven’t catch any of the three Teater Modular, then you have been missing out on the most neoteric entry to the Malay theatre scene, and to contemporary theatre as a whole – Ridhwan Saidi and his playlets.
Previously best known as a novelist and a filmmaker, Ridhwan Saidi broke into the theatre scene just March last year with the first Teater Modular. Read our review of Teater Normcore here, Ridhwan’s Double Bill play which was staged in February. You can also read about the previous Teater Modular on Ridhwan’s Moka Mocha Ink website.
For this round of Teater Modular, I will be reviewing each play in turn, in no particular order.
Directed by Ridhwan Saidi
Featuring Irfan Aziz, Shamnirul, Tasha K, Rashid, Azman Rashid & Shasha Fairus
Synopsis: The play starts with a Dato in his hotel room. Two journalists are scheduled to meet him for an interview. After the interview, we found out that the Dato is having an affair with his secretary. They then plot the murder of the secretary’s husband, by inviting him over to the hotel room. The play ends with the Dato hitting said husband with a golf club.
Review: This play generally has no deeper meaning than what was shown on stage and in text. It is simply a light, comedic play that gently tugs on bribery, murder, high profile affairs, and lazy answers by politicians (and perhaps, celebrities). There isn’t much to think about or learn from, but I personally like how the play ended.
In the script, the Husband goes into a monologue, and reminisced about the couple’s earlier days together – when they were in love- and the play ends. On stage, Ridhwan turned the Husband into a wheelchaired cripple. Towards the last lines of his monologue, he was performing his wudhuk (ablution), and when he was done, he stood up, and walked off stage. The Dato then came out of his hiding place, and hit the air where the Husband was seated earlier. Just like all of Ridhwan’s writings, this final scene may not have any relations to the body of the play. Perhaps it was a comparison of good and bad – the evil Dato murders the crippled Husband, and the Husband, who may have been a virtuous man his whole life, was given the opportunity to perform his ablution before Death took him away.
There’s nothing else to be commented on this play, other than maybe the cool triangle lighting on the hotel bed.
Overall score: 6/10
Directed by Hannan Barakbah
Featuring Adam Hamizan & Kamini Senthilathiban
Art direction by Anjali Venugopal
Synopsis: A curator wife and her artist husband came back from groceries shopping. They then group each item into 3 separate categories: politic, religion, or sex. The play leads to an argument about where should the durian be grouped into.
Review: With a line up full of Theatre for Young People’s graduates, I expected very much from this play. I was very disappointed.
The play primary message was that labels don’t matter – the couple argued about where each grocery item should be grouped into, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter. It is the inside that matters – which was prominent as the play ended with the couple looking at the ungrouped durian, as the curator wife says “Itulah. You nampak apa yang di luar. Apa yang di dalam… siapa tahu?” (That’s why. You see what’s outside, but what’s on the inside…who knows?)
This is a very interesting topic that is considerably relevant to the world right now. Gender, sexual orientation, race – we are all labelled under one of these, but are we really any of it? And because of that, it was rather frustrating that director Hannan focused too much on her own meaning of the play, rather than the play’s message. This to me was entirely opposite to the purpose of the play – curator and artist live their every day trying to label and give meaning to everything, when they should actually be living life as it is. But here is Hannan, giving meaning to everything in the play, without forgetting to actually, play.
For instance, she switched the roles (Adam played the wife, and Kamini the husband) because gender labels don’t matter, right? Ah ah ah ah. She made a washing machine as a supposedly purposeful storage, because object labels don’t matter, right? Ah ah ah ah. Lastly, she changed the durian with a pineapple, to which she had a good reason for – the pineapple looks like a durian because of its thorny edges, and also because it looks like it’s wearing a crown. (Durian – king of fruits, geddit? So why not Queen of Fruits, since it’s a crown? Ya hear me? All the feminists put ya hands up ayyyy)
As above, Hannan has trapped herself as one of those artists – too busy to give meaning to the play, she forgot to actually direct it. The mechanical movement of the actors had no function, and it was unsuccessfully done as the actors keep going in and out of it. The set design, although looks good, did not mean much to me – how does it add on to the characters of the actors? In her director’s note in the zine, she mentioned she did not give the actors reasons to their movements and blockings, because she wants them to find the reasons themselves through their character studies. Well, it looks like Hannan just stops giving direction the day after her “do your character study” rehearsal ended. The actors don’t look like they found the meaning of their actions, nor do they understood their job roles. On top of that, the actors aren’t natural Malay speakers, giving them a vibe of “I’m rich and so I speak Malay with an accent and I can’t find any meaning in art”.
I guess Hannan did one thing right – these actors are like The Sims. She started the game and left it on Free Play while she is busy fighting against labels.
Overall score: 5/10
Directed by Walid Ali
Featuring Nabil Akhbar & Nur Atiqah
Synopsis: Office mates Latifah and Ghazali are down by the river on a company “mandi sungai” trip. Incidentally, they find themselves alone with each other. A sexual yet platonic rendezvous follows after.
Review: As Walid Ali had also directed a piece in Teater Modular 1 & 2, allow me to make some comparisons here with his previous works. Walid likes to direct relationship plays, as much as he loves looooooooooong pauses. I am a fan of long pauses, but not Walid’s long pauses. Walid’s long pauses are barren, never pregnant. Surprisingly, Sesuap Kaseh did not suffer the similarly long pauses Walid usually incorporate into his plays. Although the play was mellowed down by his undoubtedly new actors, I get Sesuap Kaseh. Or rather, Sesuap Kaseh got me. I’ll even name it one of my favourite among all Ridhwan’s Modular scripts.
Sesuap Kaseh is about universal, platonic love. Here is a man and a woman, both married to someone else. The man, hornier, the woman, more reserved. But love isn’t strictly bound to only people with established relationship status. Love exists between acquaintances too. And that platonic love can be as sweet as the love you have for your closest significant other. And here, Ridhwan showed us how that exact love can exist in the spoonful of mee goreng that Latifah fed to Ghazali, and nothing more. Isn’t that beautitul?
Although the actors are new, they are rightly casted for their looks. Nur Atiqah’s innocent face is of that we see in many married female colleagues of ours. Nabil Akhbar’s skinny figure and awkward gestures, are comically horny (in a safe way). And this time, I also appreciate Walid’s insertion of smell – dettol, fresh fragrance, and mosquito repellant – just like that of waterfalls.
Overall score: 7/10
Directed by Amirul Syakir
Featuring Roshafiq Roslee & Faris Zainor
Synopsis: The angel of death, Izrail, meets jinn Tsabur, whose job is to whisper hatred into human beings and tempt them to fight each other to death. The two go into a conversation about death, individuality, and existence.
Review: Many may not agree with my review for this play. Heck, many have not agreed with many of my previous reviews anyway, so, what the hell!
Knowing these actors who are from acting colleges and having seen their previous work, I consider this staging of Erti Mati to be a mild effort from Amirul Syakir and team. Making the same mistake like Hannan, Amirul cared too much about the visual – what the characters wear (suits in a warehouse? It must be hot as hell), what the dining table looks like, and the overall grandeur of the play. But Amirul forgot to pay attention to the lines being delivered – which can be a common mistake for many newbies, especially since this is probably the hardest Ridhwan Saidi’s play ever written. Thus, it makes it unacceptable to me for this group of “experienced” theatre grads to make that mistake.
The play started rather striking – Tsabur is portrayed to be annoying, clapping his hands for some music when he eats; Izrail, had the most extraordinary entrance of any devil character I have seen staged – he banged some metal on the metal warehouse door, and in the darkness, walks towards the scene dragging a metal chain. Sadly, the excitement of the play fizzled and died right there.
Not sure if it was the direction or the actor’s choices, but both the characters took many cliched choices which turn their characters boring. Izrail seems lazy, and a lot of the times Faris did not seem to be committing to his choices. He fingered the candle fire unconvincingly, he poured water into the cup unconvincingly, he argued his points unconvincingly. None of the words were the actor’s. For someone who knows how death works like he knows the back of his hands, Faris’s choice for Izrail to explain the meaning of death and existence to Tsabur in a teacher-like strict tone does not seem convincing.
© Moka Mocha Ink 2018
As for Roshafiq Roslee, I have seen him on stage a number of times. He is a well trained actor who always make the same mistake – he cares too much about his gestures and physicality, that he forgets to internalise his lines. Like Faris, many of his gestures are caricatures – “oh I have probably seen Johnny Depp or Philip Seymour Hoffman do this, let me try it for this character”. It is understandable that such heavy script is hard to stage, but director Amirul Syakir should have taken that into account when he picked his script. Just because you know the lines back and forth, does not mean the audience knows them, too.
Referring to a review on Twitter by Azrin Fauzi, who said, “10 tahun lagi bila ada orang tanya, ‘Ada apa-apa yang kau ingat dalam tahun 2018?’ Aku akan jawab, ‘Bila Izrail tiup api lilin lalu Tsabur jatuh mati dalam Teater Modular,” (in 10 years time, if someone asked me what i remember most from 2018? I will reply with, “When Izrail blows off the candle and Tsabur fall to his death in Teater Modular”), I personally prefer the ending that Ridhwan Saidi has originally written. He ended the play with Tsabur walking into death on his own, leaving Izrail under the light (life). This ending, in my opinion, strengthens Tsabur’s role as the jinn who fires up human beings into killing each other, making the whole play about Tsabur doing his final vindiction, before willingly walking into death. As for Amirul Syakir’s ending, it seems to me that he is trying to make the two characters debate. There is nothing wrong with that, it is just that, it’s boring.
Overall score: 6/10
This to me is my least favourite Modular, simply for the overall performance and experience. Although KongsiKL served to intesify Izrail’s entrance and provided the greenery in “Sesuap Kaseh”, the large space can be distracting at times.
Script wise, the four scripts in Teater Modular 3 are perhaps the most profound and impactful scripts ever. If we compare with the first Modular, the scripts were the funniest – Ridhwan’s absurd comedy can be heard in each piece, and the simplicity of the set, despite it making a fair visual experience, was a necessary match for Ridhwan’s loud hilarity. The second Modular had scripts with disconcerting storylines, yet the overall performance, paired with Makespace’s underground naked space, makes for an unforgettable theatre experience.
In the future, I will really like to see Ridhwan’s scripts land into the hands of veteran theatre makers, the likes of Khairunadzwan Rody, Christopher Ling or Kelvin Wong. This third Modular proves that Ridhwan’s scripts have come up to an exciting level, but sadly, were underperformed by new directors and actors. Their immaturity can be seen not only on stage, but also off.
Overall Experience: 6.5/10
All photos courtesy of
I don’t know whether you agree with me or not but what i can see from you actually you are the fan of Realism, fan of ‘long pause play’ so that’s why Sesuap Kaseh is your favourite play. Here i just want to tell that, when we as a audience come and watch a theatre performance, please don’t set anything in our mind. Make sure your mind is ‘zero minded’. So when you came to Modular with something that we call ‘i’m a fan of realism, i’m a fan of long pause play’ in your mind, you will not able to watch and accept what the others play give to the audience. Your comment to ERTI MATI is just a comment without a strong reason and solving. Why? Because Erti Mati is ‘anti realism’, not like a Sesuap Kaseh. You have to understand that in theatre performance, art is freedom. So when we come and watch some performance, don’t set anything and expectation in our mind. We must be ready what a perfomer, director will give in their performance. Not always expect that performance will perform exectly same in your mind. This is wrong. See what their can give to the audience with differens concept, not just one concept only. Because? Art is freedom. Art is not follow what actually you like or in your mind.
Dear Mr X,
First of all, I believe you did not understand quite clearly what I meant when I wrote about long pauses. I am a fan of ‘pregnant’ pauses – and as I mentioned, I noticed that many of Walid Ali’s long pauses are empty. Nothing is happening besides actors staring at each other, as there is no weight to these pauses. Many times I find myself just waiting for someone to say something already. Hence, I enjoyed Sesuap Kaseh this time around because the pauses are not empty. They meant something, and I believe it was also to be credited to his new actors – friends who have to pretend to be strangers. There were awkwardness, there were desire, there were many unsaid things in his pauses THIS TIME around.
Secondly, if I had walked into that gudang with a closed mind, I would have not liked Sesuap Kaseh as I expect it to be another drag, right? Believe me, Mr X, it is my job as a theatre critic to walk into the theatre expecting the least, with a clear mind. It is up to the play to bring me up and excites me. If they don’t, I will know instantly that something is wrong. That is exactly what happened with your play, Mr X, because you had me until Izrail’s entrance, and lost me the moment he sat down.
Thirdly, I’m not quite sure what you meant by anti-realism, because that is a philosophical term. I believe you are referring to either 1) the abstract setting of the play, or 2) the postmodernist elements you tried to include in the play. There aren’t enough postmodernism in your play for me to actually consider it postmodernist, though. Also, yes, you are quite right that I like realism, in the sense that I like genuine interactions and choices that leave impacts on me. After watching your play, however, I felt nothing. If you are trying to make an abstract or postmodernist play, it is completely alright for your choices to be unreal, out of the norm, or weird – as long as they leave an impact. Many of the choices in Erti Mati – be it direction, visual, or acting – was empty and meaningless.
Lastly, I am surprised that you are asking me to receive art openly and freely, when here you are criticising me for not liking your play, and at the same time looking down at me for liking Sesuap Kaseh. If the simple direction and newbie actors of Sesuap Kaseh done better for me than you did, well, you just have to try harder.