COME WHAT, COME MAY
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Most would recognise this as one of the many famous quotes from William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, and, yet, it somehow accurately sums up the experience of meeting Dato’ Faridah Merican and Omar Ali, captains at the helm of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre’s (KLPAC) upcoming Dato’ Seri. No, they aren’t placing a curse on an enemy, but rather bubbling with excitement, playfully teasing each other and, most of all, filled with a fiery passion for theatre and the arts. This time, the passion is directed at Dato’ Seri, the Bahasa Melayu adaptation of Macbeth.
“This isn’t the first time the play has been staged at KLPAC,” says Dato’ Faridah, Executive Producer of KLPAC. “In fact, it was performed in 2016 to much success. The audiences simply loved it! They were raving about the language and pleasantly surprised by how relevant the story was to today’s times. Who would’ve expected a story set in the late Middle Ages of Scotland would ring true for the lives of modern-day Malaysians?”
Why, indeed, is a story written five centuries ago by an Englishman, no less, pertinent in a land 10,000km away? “The answer is simple: Macbeth is a timeless, universal human story,” enlightens Omar, Director of Dato’ Seri. “When you strip away the embellishments, the story is about power, responsibility and its devastating effects.”
These were themes that reverberated strongly with the late Tan Sri Muhammad Ali Hashim, Omar’s father, who crafted the original script for this production. “My father came across the works of Shakespeare during literature lessons in school and the stories just struck him deeply. It stayed with him his whole life,” Omar shares. In fact, it was Tan Sri Muhammad Ali who suggested that KLPAC present this tragedy to local audiences when Dato’ Faridah and her team were seeking inspiration for its Shakespeare 400 celebration back in 2016. “We were casually conversing at the dinner table and I mentioned the Shakespeare 400 celebrations. My father immediately cried out ‘Macbeth’ and we decided to do it!” Omar recalls.
The father-and-son duo reworked the iconic tale into one of Dato’ DiKajang, a man who struggles with the choices he makes and its withering effects in the nation of Pertiwi, a fictional land not unlike 1960s Malaya. Played by Redza Minhat, Dato’ DiKajang’s life is set into a tailspin when three witches prophesise his ascension to the kingdom’s throne. Urged by his wife, Datin DiKajang as portrayed by Naqia Aqilah, to take the crown from the king, Raja Jaya Putera, by murder, he descends into despair and madness as he wrestles with the lure of glory and the foul stench of murder.
Describing the scriptwriting process, Omar Ali recalls: “We started with the translation of the original play into Bahasa Melayu. It wasn’t easy for me, but my father had such a wonderful grasp of the language that the words just came naturally to him. We then tried to incorporate Malay folklore and traditional tunes into the story such as Geylang Si Paku Geylang and Lancang Kuning.” At that, Omar launches into song:
“Lancang kuning belayar malam, Haluan menuju ke laut dalam… Kalau nakhoda kuranglah faham, Alamatlah kapal akan tenggelam… Lancang kuning menentang badai, Tali kemudi berpilit tiga…”
He is amazed at how apt the song was in relaying the essence of Dato’ Seri. “It’s a cautionary song; if the captain does not know how to sail, then the ship would sink. And this relates perfectly to the story where Pertiwi is the ship and the inept captain denotes Dato’ DiKajang’s flaws as a leader.”
Theatre goers can also expect to see numerous Malay proverbs peppering the play. “In the process of adapting the play into Bahasa Melayu, my father and I wanted to create a story that feels familiar to local audiences and show how relevant Shakespeare is to people across all walks of life.” And it was indeed a fantastic adaptation, hence its revival for The Actors Studio’s 30th anniversary celebrations. As Dato’ Faridah puts it: “Good theatre should be repeated over and over again.”
What can theatre goers expect in the production’s second coming? “This time, I want to explore the relationships between the characters,” Omar says and his tone softens. “If you take a moment to examine the tragedy, it’s such a beautiful story. When I look beyond the obvious themes, I see a tragic love story. And it’s these emotions that I want to highlight this time around.”
While the dynamic duo’s sincerity in retelling Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy is admirable, one can hardly ignore the coincidence of the production with contemporary politics. During Dato’ Seri’s initial run, the late Tan Sri Muhammad Ali once said: “As Malaysians, perhaps it’s time we reflect and ponder upon Malaysia’s identity as a nation going forward; especially in terms of its socio-political culture as defined by its political elite who are shaping the nation’s future direction and destiny.”
Reflecting on this, Omar’s expression turns slightly sad as he recollects the words of his father. “My father used to talk about amanah – responsibility – a lot. He wanted the nation’s leaders to instill a budaya kepimpinan, or a leadership culture, of responsibility for the people. So, in this play, we’re urging people to think about the choices they make and the consequences of these actions.”
Dato’ Faridah interjects, “Art is a reflection of the society and current situations, after all. We’re not here to make political statements, but simply to reflect the reality of life and this is something we want the audience to think about.” Nodding in agreement, Omar adds: “We can’t help it if people draw similarities or make their own conclusions, because that is their personal experience of the art form. To borrow a quote from Banksy, the famous street artist: ‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’.”
Dato’ Seri will be staged in Pentas 2, KLPAC, from 10 to 13 May. Tickets are available at ticketpro.com. my or through the KLPAC Box Office at 03-4047 9000.