Thursday, August 21, 2008

The swordfish, then the Concubine

The OCBC Singapore Theatre is currently on and we watched this play called The Swordfish, then the Concubine. Ignoring the weird title, it was written by Malaysian playwright Kee Thuan Chye and directed by Ivan Heng.

The synopsis for the play:
Swordfish attack Singapura, terrorising its citizens. A boy saves the kingdom by lining the beach with banana stems. But the Sultan, at his ministers’ advice, has the boy executed.

A generation later, the Sultan’s successor, his son, breaks the covenant between subject and ruler when he has his concubine publicly executed on trumped-up charges, bringing untold shame to her family. Sure enough, an armada of ships from the Majapahit empire soon appears on the horizon, and threatens Singapura’s supremacy.

Conspiracy and trump-up charges? As you can see, the play is very apt indeed in the current socio-political climate in Malaysia.

There were a lot of Malay cultural influences in the play, something rarely seen in Singapore theatre. There was dikir barat, gamelan and Malay costumes.

The play started off with the trial of the concubine, Nurhalisa. The judge was obviously not going to be impartial. She was charged with one, to conspire to overthrow the king by associating with a sect deemed "deviant" by the government and two, attempted to murder the consort to the Sultan.

About the deviant sect, Mat Zin, it was portrayed as a sect that teaches its followers to love fellow human beings, that all religions are equal as they are all from the same supreme being, to appreciate diversity, etc. Apparently, there was a giant water container on the compound of this religious commune.

Of course, this reminds me of a certain giant tea pot somewhere, which was smashed by the "righteous" government for being "deviant".

Other things that raised questions, how does one prove that there was a conspiracy against you? If I have no spies and I don't have money to bribe people, how do I fight against those who want to bring me down, especially if they were powerful? Especially if their words hold more weight? It's basically their words against mine.

When the play flashback to when Singapura was attacked by swordfish, there was a scene where the National Service was poked fun off. Just because the soldiers attended NS, doesn't mean they could solve every problem like a sea of psycho swordfish.

And then the boy came to suggest that they should plant banana stems to halt the siege. He was immediately killed the next day, to preserve the peace of the state. How does one boy equal to causing harm to the society? Well, politicians like the Bendahara has a way to justify things like this and it went like this - the boy would one day grow up to be very clever, too clever with his ideas which that influence the people around him and therefore cause riot in the kingdom.

Especially when the media is the controlled by the government, through seen or unseen hands, the people would believe what they read and hear. That is why I don't buy newspapers anymore, at lease not for the news and editorials.

In the second act, the reigning Sultan who was a spoilt brat who always wanted things his way, offended his cousin, the ruler of Majapahit. For that, Singapura was again attacked. The Laksamana helped the invaders and for that, he was turned into stone, what was termed as divine justice.

However, the another boot-licking pembesar who served the Majapahit became a hundreds time richer. And he died peacefully, so where is his divine justice?

The part where the Sultan's niece become his daughter-in-law and the Bendahara's wife's brother become his son-in-law, that was so true. Ths Sultan and the Bendahara were already in-laws became further in-laws. They're related and elated. So incestious.

Acting all around was quite good, though no one particularly stand out. The two commentators cum narrators were funny, playing it to the hilt with their antics.

Overall, I think it was quite funny. There were too much talking in some parts and the pace was a bit inconsistent, but those are minor flaws. Though I did find the section where they searched for the best singer, voted by the people, to sing for the Sultan ala Singapore Idol quite jarring to the whole play.

Highly recommended to go watch, if the play is staged in Kuala Lumpur.

1 comment:

Jaded_Jeremy said...

I believed it's the Royal Keeper of the Treasury (Penghulu Bendahari?) who helped the invader. The Laksamana died fighting them.