Haunting homage to traditions

REVIEW / THEATRE

CARI MAKAN

Hatch Theatrics

Auditorium, The Malay Heritage Centre/ Thursday

Incense perfumes the air as actress Suhaili Safari lowers herself into a flower bath. Gene Sha Rudyn, in character as a bomoh, throws petals and chants verses that frighten even as they are meant to heal the character.

Reality is suspended in this haunting climax to Hatch Theatrics' homage to dying professions, created as part of the Malay Heritage Centre's Arts Incubation Programme.

  • BOOK IT / CARI MAKAN

  • WHERE: Auditorium, The Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate

    WHEN: Today, 3 and 8pm

    ADMISSION: $25, e-mail hatchticketing@gmail.com

    INFO: In Malay and English with Malay and English surtitles

Cari Makan, taken from a Malay expression that means "to earn a living", initiates viewers into a world where shamans and midwives dispense herbal medicines (jamu) and are employed and empowered by the community.

Suhaili and Sabrina Annarhar play young and old versions of the same mak bidan or midwife.

Trained by an older member of the profession, she delivers babies and cares for women during and after pregnancy.

This mak bidan is, however, barren. The character's displacement from her place of power as a woman and healer is the anchor of the script by first-time playwright Nadia Cheriyan.

Gene plays the midwife's husband, who is the village's tok mudim or circumcision specialist. He is also by turns an evil spirit haunting the forest, the midwife's mother or her best friend and the play's narrator.

Cari Makan is a series of sketches linked by sessions where Gene questions or otherwise engages the audience. The staging by director Faizal Abdullah recreates the old-school atmosphere of village audiences listening wide-eyed to a travelling entertainer.

The setting helps. The auditorium of the Malay Heritage Centre offers a few benches, but most viewers have to sit on the carpeted floor.

The set design by A. Syadiq includes obviously old and valuable items such as the giant jar for Suhaili's flower bath.

Lighting by Alberta and sound from Uzair Daud are unobtrusive and highly successful in transforming the space from a creepy forest to a sunny village hut or the smoke-filled interior of a bomoh's hut.

Nadia's script includes song, dance and realistic romance between midwife and husband. It is equally adept at presenting the character's increasingly crazed longing for a child.

Where it fails is in linking the twin reasons for the midwife's frustration. Apart from her barrenness, the world is moving away from traditional medicine and towards hospitals. The play is about the loss of the kind of power magnificently displayed in the climax, where the bomoh leads the midwife into abandoning Islamic belief and bargaining with spirits.

But because this tension is not sustained until the end, this striking show ends with an unexpected whimper.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'Haunting homage to traditions'. Print Edition | Subscribe