A STORMY AFFAIR
Dato’ Faridah Merican doesn’t simply enter a room; she billows in on a wave of energy and the air around her sparks with electric joy. Suffice to say, the galvanic woman is perfect to direct Thunderstorm, the all-new English version of the epic Chinese drama, Lei Yu by Tsao Yu, starring Patrick Teoh as Chou Pu-Yuan and Carmen Soo as his long-suffering wife, Chou Fan-Yi. Written in the early 1930s, Lei Yu was staged in Shanghai and Tokyo to much acclaim before being adapted into a film in Shanghai in 1938 and, later, in Hong Kong in 1957, which featured Bruce Lee in one of his few non-fighting onscreen personas.
To those who are unfamiliar with the story of Lei Yu, it is a dark and brooding drama on family, rigid traditionalism, hypocrisy and corruption that dives right into the tempestuous gale of societal taboo. Clapping her hands in glee, Dato’ Faridah exclaims: “This is a terrific story! It’s salacious. It’s provocative. It’s juicy with sordid elements – all the makings of good theatre.” The sordid elements that she speaks of are psychological and physical torture, including incest and corruption, inflicted on members of the Chou household under the oppression of the extremely wealthy but morally depraved patriarch, Chou Pu-Yuan.
Asked why she’s drawn to such a turbulent story, Dato’ Faridah says: “Lei Yu has all the elements to start a compelling conversation. One might recognise the characters in the play as characters from their own life, but these are people we’re not supposed to talk or write about. Though not common, it is still a reality and there is a possibility that this is happening to our families or to those around us. It is a fire starter to launch a feisty discussion and I think that’s simply wonderful!”
Spurred by the scandalous storyline, Dato’ Faridah sets Thunderstorm in the quiet town of Ipoh. Presented by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat, this is her third engagement with the story – the previous two being acting roles in Mustaffa Noor’s 1985 Ribut and a 2001 production by Bob Hazli Hassan. “The story has been silent for a long time and there are many people who know nothing about Ribut as they were probably too young to have had the pleasure of experiencing the thunderstorm,” reflects Dato’ Faridah.
Reminiscing, she continues: “Last year, I got the sad news on the passing of the late Najib Nor, the director and costume designer of Ribut. Hearing that, I thought it was time to take on the story again. We’re dedicating this production to the late Mustaffa Noor and Najib Nor. But Thunderstorm is for me too: I wanted a chance to tell what I believe is a great story before I go up to the big theatre in the sky.”
In this 2017 retelling of the tale, audiences can expect some new surprises as the spunky lady has a few tricks up her sleeve. Working with Freddy Tan and Mark Beau de Silva, the localised version promises to be a thunderous tale that runs for about 90 minutes, far shorter than the lengthy 150-minute original. “You don’t need to sit though hours of agony. I want to sock it to ‘em and let the audience come out of the theatre in a spirited debate. We’ve taken the juiciest bits from the original and made it more impactful with a short and sharp story,” explains Dato’ Faridah. “Tsao Yu himself said in the foreword of this play that he didn’t think that anyone could sit through hours poring over the gory details.”
“The story is no secret but if you’re not privy to it, let’s just say it’s definitely a stormy affair!”
This thrilling version of the play also introduces the storm from the beginning itself. Dato’ Faridah wants the audience to feel the sense of impending doom with the approach of this thunderstorm. “I’ve been toying with some ideas on how to bring this gale into the theatre,” she muses before continuing with a cheeky grin: “I cannot make rain fall in the theatre but I can try other things. Regardless, you’ll know a thunderstorm is approaching, but have no idea what will happen when it finally hits. The story is no secret but if you’re not privy to it, let’s just say it’s definitely a stormy affair!”
Presented by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat, Thunderstorm will run from 20 to 23 April 2017 at klpac. Tickets can be purchased at the klpac box office, TicketPro outlets or online at ticketpro.com.my. Visit klpac.org for additional information.