Platform for rising theatre talent takes layered look at history and memory

(From far left) Jamil Schulze, Farez Najid, Farhana M. Noor and Salif Hardie in Sejarah-Ku.
(From far left) Jamil Schulze, Farez Najid, Farhana M. Noor and Salif Hardie in Sejarah-Ku.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS

Sejarah-Ku questions the unreliability of memory and resulting accounts of history in song and shadow play

REVIEW / THEATRE

SEJARAH-KU

Toy Factory Productions

17A Smith Street/ Wednesday

Can art change history? Yes, as Sejarah-Ku shows in a tight, dramatic production using shadow play and song.

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Jamil Schulze plays a nameless Englishman who tries to reconcile varying accounts of Malayan legend into one written story. Farhana M. Noor is his daughter, trying to complete his work but hampered by incomplete memories of the oral tales he told her.

Farez Najid and Salif Hardie play the warrior comrades, Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat, of the incomplete story. They repeatedly act out their final battle in various ways, depending on the memories and decisions of the writer and his daughter.

Questions over history, inheritance and the unreliability of memory are layered neatly in Sejarah- Ku, which means "my history" in Malay.

In the half-Caucasian, half-Asian persona of the daughter, scriptwriter Al Hafiz Sanusi presents the dilemma of the modern Asian, who speaks English and a mother tongue and who exists in not only both cultures, but also an undefined, confusing space between two worlds.

One thinks also of the racial classification on a Singaporean identity card, where the categories "Malay", "Chinese" and "Indian" do not take into account a specific dialect group, the memory of which is kept alive only in the language and stories spoken at home.

But how many of these stories are remembered?

Director Irfan Kasban clothes Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat in similar outfits and reciprocated colours: the green of one's top is echoed in the other's trousers. When one kills the other, it is akin to the writer striking out extraneous accounts and choosing only one in the final story.

Sejarah-Ku is the third play staged under Toy Factory Productions' platform for rising theatre talent, The Wright Stuff. At just over 30 minutes, it is the right size for its message, but too short for some audiences. It would be interesting to see it presented in a double bill with Irfan's own play about history and memory, Trees, A Crowd.

That play, staged last year under another platform for young talent, The Twenty-Something Theatre Festival, argued over disappearing physical markers of history. It queried whether celebrating only one narrative feeds a sense of rootlessness.

Sejarah-Ku similarly shows the past as more nuanced than usually presented and feeds a hunger to learn more about these other accounts of history.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'Layered look at history and memory'. Print Edition | Subscribe