Feb 4, 2018

Review: Mak Yong Titis Sakti

There's a lot to tell about this wonderful / fantastic / mesmerizing "experimental" play that I was fortunate be able to watch last night at Kuala Lumpur Performing Art Centre (KLPAC). Mostly I want to talk about the play itself, about how the Shakespeare classic work "A Midsummer's Night Dream" being adapted so well into one of the more unthinkable methods of performance, about the unfamiliar Mak Yong traditional performance, and bits and pieces here and there to compliment my thoughts regarding the time I spent there.

But is it fair to talk so much about Mak Yong when just before watching the performance I have never heard of it before? Immediately once I get hooked during the first part of the play, I went out during the intermission to buy the play's program book. It was worth it. Personally, I think they should put more about what Mak Yong is all about in the program book seeing that the play manages to get people (or at least, me) to get interested in Mak Yong. So much so that I wanted to google everything I know about Mak Yong, KLPAC, The Actors Studio, etc.

But to begin with, I was first came into notice about this play from my twitter timeline. @asrulmm, an enthusiastic movie-goer and the one who popularized the trending #RekomenFilem (jangan cakap aku tak payung hahah), retweeted about the play. Now, I have been in some sort of a dump this lately, feeling extremely disgusted in myself and was immersing myself in self-pity when I saw the poster and thought to myself, "Why not? I need to do something to take my mind away of things". Exactly after a minute of stumbling upon the poster, I immediately went to ticketpro website and booked myself a seat. Go, impulsive me, well done!

I was asleep yesterday late afternoon (it was a postcall, and I was so dead tired) and upon waking up the Maghrib azan was called. I hurriedly did what was necessary and soon afterwards I drove to KLPAC like a maniac because the play started at 8.30 pm. This is my second time going to KLPAC; the first time was in 2006 during a school visit to watch, coincidentally, "Anak Bulan di Kampong Wa' Hassan", the first play from The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat that became the sparkplug to the series of local performing arts in the years to come.

When I think of it, that play Anak Bulan di Kampong Wa' Hassan was, to my naive and non-existence knowledge of arts, a bit unconventional. The way I remembered it, there's only one performer acting on all roles (including a rooster if I'm not mistaken?), and Kampong Wa' Hassan is actually the last village existed in Singapore, not Malaysia (if I got this all wrong, correct me! It's been ages). I remembered KA, my BM teacher and our school's esteemed rugby manager, told us that performing arts are not for everyone to enjoy and understand. He was referring to our confused Biology teacher who tagged along and seemingly did not understand about the play.

To be honest, I did not get it that much either, and I was a Science-stream student. In all actuality, I really like art to some degree and I wished deeply to be active in something artsy or to be able to craft or perform on stage but I don't have any artistic bone in my body (and not to mention my stiffness and my inability to roll off any Rrr words) so since my brain just barely passed as a minimum for something sciency, I leave that art dream of mine to slumber.

I have no expectation from this play - after all, this was originally as a ticket (haha, pardon me) out of my misery over the weekends. And I couldn't possibly based it on my last experience there since this is only my second time watching a play. 

The seats were almost full with audiences. I did not know what to expect, though. Surprised, that quite a lot of people from various walks of life (I really started to use this phrase quite a lot nowadays, huh) came to watch the play. I was wondering as I stared across the hall, gazing at them all, who were they and how did they come to know this play. I always get the feeling like I'm an outsider - that the rest of the audiences there were a part of an art community I mingled into unknowingly. It's like they know exactly what they were paying to watch, while there I was, sitting like a trapped duck, half excited, half in a dark (no, the lights did went off for the play haha) about the whole thing. There were even foreigners coming to watch, too. 

On the other hand, I also felt a bit pity that the hall was not fully booked; although I am not a patron of the arts, I do want our local art to flourish and popular. I only stumbled upon this play accidentally - that just simply shows how more work to be done to introduce our local work to the rest of the Malaysia.

Written and directed by Dr Norzizi Zulkifli, it was first performed way back in 2009. Mak Yong Titis Sakti is a play based on the Shakespear's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". From the program that I bought (and read), it says that this play is the sole Malaysian work that was selected to be part of the Asian Intercultural Shakespeare Archive and has been studied at the National University of Singapore. This time, Mak Yong Titis Sakti has returned as part of the celebration for the 30th anniversary of The Actors Studio.

Now, you all can say that Shakespeare works are legendary and all are masterpiece but for the life of me I have never be able to understand those plays. The written form is very hard to read and as I have no background in English or whatsover related, it rendered my interest somehow limited. I remembered reading the graphic version of the Shakespeare's plays from the KYS resouce centre, though (those books are in Malay language as well, so colour me surprise)

As I grow up, I became addicted with Japanese mangas and as Internet makes everything easier, more Shakespearean resources became accessible and the forms of performing them also changes. One of them is the manga Glass Mask, a story of a young girl named Kitajima Maya (I still remember her name!) who performed as Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream play set in an open-space park. Nevertheless, both the books I read when I was a teenager and the manga helped me to understand about the actual play, regardless of the way it was presented.

The same can be said with Mak Yong Titis Sakti. A Mak Yong, originated from Kelantan-Pattani, is an old practiced performing art that involves dances, singing, drama, and instrumental music. It is in fact so ancient (one of the oldest in the world), that in 2005 it was listed by UNESCO as one of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. In the beginning of every Mak Yong performance, an offering called semah kumpung is made to pay respects to the spirits (this is way before Islam came to the Tanah Melayu), which at first baffled me to no end because Shakespeare surely didn't have any of that in his time. It sure baffled PAS as well, seeing that Mak Yong is actually banned in Kelantan for its un-Islamic and deities-filled plays.

There are many differences between Mak Yong and the original Shakespeare play that I have found. One of them is that in Mak Yong, traditionally all the performers are female. The only exception to that is that the clowns in Mak Yong are always the male. This is a stark contrast to the original plays  performed at the Globe theatre in London where all the roles were always performed by the males. They would use young boys, generally, to play the female parts.

I came to love every moment of the Mak Yong Titis Sakti. You don't have to know about the Shakespeare play to enjoy this play. Nor do you need to be fluent at Kelantanese dialect to understand what they were talking about. The hall was echoed with hearty laughter throughout the night. It is, in a way, geo-politically influenced both locally and internationally. It makes jabs at our local figures and also at world, encompassing timeless references of both old and new. The absurdness of the acts only make us more entertained. The wilderness of such comic reliefs only make us feel delighted to watch more and more.

Another difference I have found in particular is that the Puck in this play is played by two people - Peran Tua and Peran Muda (servants to the Fairy King). These two are the jesters of the Mak Yong, thus they are played by males. I absolutely love the Perans; after all, Puck is the most interesting character in the whole play. The Peran Muda is so comical and unbelievably a pervert, it makes you doubly surprised that the actor of Peran Muda (Dr Rosdeen Suboh) is actually an academic lecturer and an experienced director. What a talent!

I also love the voice of Raja Besar, played by Mardiana Alwi. The throw of her voice is mesmerizing and I think is best of all the singing of the play. The intermission part is also a really great scene in itself. While the audience got the chance to refresh themselves, in came the Memanda Bijaksana, played by Rosnan Rahman, calling for his missing daughter Cempaka Sari amongst the rows of audience in the hall. He is the sole pak yong performer in the whole wide world, so I personally think that he is a national heritage and broadly speaking, should be listed under endangered species category. 

"Kau ada jumpa anak aku Cempaka Sari?"

Other notable mentions that I must include are the two princes, Iskandar Muda (played by Safia Hanifah) and Indera Putera (Elza Irdalynna). Both performed their roles in English while their counterpart speak in Kelantanese. Their pronunciation is well performed and lovely to listen to. Actually, when I looked up for the performers' biodata in the play program book, I was struck with how all of them are actually so talented. Congratulations to you guys. You guys are all really a riot. Pecah panggung!

This whole unforgettable experience has influenced me to consider spending more time in the future watching and supporting the local art movement in Malaysia. It is indeed a hidden gem that has a huge potential. If a play like this can bring people from all races all in tears from laughing, thundering the hall with claps and applause as the actors bowed at the end of the play, surely with right exposure the whole Malaysia will come and enjoy the art that we can bring.


  1. Nice. To many more plays, smiles and laughters :)

  2. A good review. Rasa mcm nak pi tgk la ni. Too bad I live so far away from KL.