Story about identity is slick, but stuck in stereotypes

Sahirrah Safit plays an adopted, half-Caucasian, half-Malay girl in Angkat.
Sahirrah Safit plays an adopted, half-Caucasian, half-Malay girl in Angkat.PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA

REVIEW / THEATRE

ANGKAT

Teater Ekamatra

Malay Heritage Centre Auditorium Wednesday

Rows and columns of boxes break the Malay Heritage Centre Auditorium into a tiered stage.

The cast of Angkat steps up and down and around the walls and stairs created by the cubes.

In her role as Salmah, an adopted child seeking the truth of her origins, Sahirrah Safit rummages through the cardboard boxes for clues while her mother Khadijah (Norsiah Ramly) hides others away.

Both are boxed in by stereotypes. Khadijah is written as a deeply conservative character, Salmah is urged by others to rebrand herself as a "modern Malay" to win a national singing contest.

  • BOOK IT / ANGKAT

  • WHERE: Malay Heritage Centre Auditorium, 85 Sultan Gate

    WHEN: Today and tomorrow, 8pm; tomorrow and Sunday, 3pm

    ADMISSION: Tickets at $20 each from ekamatra.org.sg/tix. E-mail tix@ekamatra.org.sg for inquiries

The set designed by director Irfan Kasban begs for someone to destroy the order created by the cubes, which is as flimsy as socially constructed biases.

Sadly, this never happens, despite a promising start when it seems Salmah will reconcile her upbringing with her desire for fame.

The flat ending aside, Angkat is a well-told story about identity, centred on an adopted daughter who looks nothing like her mother.

Rootlessness is familiar ground for local theatre-makers. Earlier this year, Irfan directed Al Hafiz Sanusi's Sejarah-Ku, in which a half-Caucasian, half-Malay girl struggles to reconcile the parts of her heritage.

Such struggle is revisited in this play based on a concept created by Nabilah Said, but written and devised by the director and the cast. The production is slick and tight, as expected from Teater Ekamatra. Tini Aliman's sound changes the mood beautifully from domestic to televised glamour.

The cast is solid, all wearing white, like a canvas to be painted by the audience's biases.

Norsiah and Sahirrah play their roles to the hilt. Erwin Shah Ismail, Faizal Abdullah and Farez Najid are excellent as the team grooming Salmah to be a National Idol, and also as young orphans under Khadijah's care.

The TV team urges Salmah to think out of the box to win. But boxes provide comfort and structure and the play, too, succumbs to tropes. At the end, Salmah goes back to her beginnings, rather than creating a different path for herself.

The two separate parts of her life intersect only once, in a scene infused with menace as Faizal plays a producer who visits the orphanage where Khadijah works to reveal the truth of Salmah's birth.

In this play, reconciliation between two identities seems impossible, at least for this generation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Story about identity is slick, but stuck in stereotypes'. Print Edition | Subscribe