See divorce from a man's view

Actor Sani Hussin in The Necessary Stage's one-man show, Best Of (His Story).
Actor Sani Hussin in The Necessary Stage's one-man show, Best Of (His Story).PHOTO: GIN TAY/ SURROUND

Almost four years ago, The Necessary Stage presented Best Of, a powerful and polarising monologue about a Malay-Muslim woman trying to finalise her divorce under Islamic law.

Next month, the theatre company stages the husband's side of the story in Best Of (His Story).

Television and theatre actor Sani Hussin plays the unnamed man whose somewhat chauvinist point of view has already scandalised some members of the audience at an initial script reading late last month.

Director Alvin Tan, 54, says: "At the reading, one woman said, 'Why did you do this play? I so agree with the woman, why she wanted to leave him.'"

Best Of (His Story) runs at The Necessary Stage's Black Box from Nov 2 to 13.

  • BOOK IT / BEST OF (HIS STORY)

  • WHERE: The Necessary Stage Black Box, 278 Marine Parade Road

    WHEN: Nov 2 to 6 and Nov 9 to 13, 8pm (Wednesdays to Fridays), 3 and 8pm (Saturdays), 3pm (Sundays)

    ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic

The earlier play, Best Of, staged in January 2013 during The Necessary Stage's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, was written for actress Siti Khalijah Zainal and performed in English.

Playwright Haresh Sharma's intent was - and is, in Best Of (His Story) - to present a slice of life for the Malay minority in Singapore to a larger audience.

Stripped down to a single monologue by an actress who barely moved from her seat, the play returned to the basics of theatre. It also took on issues not often explored in local productions such as talaq, or divorce under Islamic law.

In fact, playwright Elangovan's Talaq, about marital violence in the Indian-Muslim community, was denied a licence in 2000 for its English and Malay staging.

Some Malay-Muslim viewers appreciated the matters highlighted in Best Of. Others took issue with the portrayal of the female character's plight. One viewer wrote in to The Straits Times to outline the various options women have under syariah law to disentangle themselves from unhappy marriages.

Other viewers asked for the man's viewpoint of the story, so Sharma reached out via Facebook and friends to speak with Malay-Muslim men going through a divorce.

During the research, aided by Sani, it emerged that, traditionally, men are the heads of the Islamic household. This can be a thorny issue for some women or exploited by some men to retain control in a world where women are just as educated, or more so, than their partners.

Some Malay men were also brought up in homes where cooking or making the bed was women's work and it was "pantang" or taboo for men to do housework.

But realities today are different, says Sani, 43 and happily married for 12 years. Both men and women work and it is not fair to expect only one to shoulder domestic burdens.

He did not watch Best Of and is avoiding even the DVD recording of Siti's performance lest it colour his concept of the character. "This is not a debate or rebuttal. For me, it's keeping it personal. The story is between me - my character - and her and now I'm sharing it with the audience."

He worked closely with Sharma to ensure the English script is realistic. He says: "This is not an English or Malay play. This is a Singaporean play. Anyone, no matter how good his English or Malay is, will understand it."

He adds with a laugh: "When we did the reading, someone said I shouldn't be so fluent in English. I was wondering, do I have to slur?"

His character met his wife at the Institute of Technical Education, so test audiences questioned the husband's language proficiency.

Sharma says: "This Best Of series also tells you about the audience. It brings out people's belief systems."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'See divorce from a man's view'. Print Edition | Subscribe