Characters from folklore in musical

Alkesah's cast includes Hatta Said (left) and Siti Khalijah Zainal.
Alkesah's cast includes Hatta Said (left) and Siti Khalijah Zainal.
Alkesah's cast includes Hatta Said (far left) and Siti Khalijah Zainal.
Aidli Alin Mosbit
Alkesah's cast includes Hatta Said (far left) and Siti Khalijah Zainal.
Zulfadli Rashid

From daydreamer Mat Jenin to clever mousedeer Sang Kancil, familiar characters from folklore get a musical reworking in the Malay production Alkesah.

It runs from July 12 to 15 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio and has been commissioned for the 17th edition of Pesta Raya, an annual festival of Malay arts presented by the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

Alkesah is written by playwright Zulfadli Rashid (also known as Big) and directed by his former mentor and long-time collaborator Aidli Alin Mosbit.

It is their first musical together, though they did present a cabaret-style comedy, Kabaret, in 2011, under their group Panggung Arts.

Alin, 45, says: "We wanted to work on something like a Malay pantomime and we really like Malay folklore. There are certain archetypes we grew up with, who are a bit funny, a bit unlucky, and we wanted to create a place where these characters come to life."

The narrative pits Mat Jenin (Norisham Osman) against the evil witch Nenek Kebayan (Siti Maznah), who has reportedly cursed the daydreamer's kampung. Other familiar names crop up, including the foolish Pak Pandir (Hatta Said), the clever Mak Andir (Siti Khalijah Zainal) and the mousedeer Sang Kancil (Shafiqhah Efandi).

Siti Hajar Abdul Ghani, Jeff Catz and Muhd Haikal Mohd Jani round off the ensemble.

  • BOOK IT / ALKESAH

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

  • WHEN: July 12 and 13, 8pm; July 14 and 15, 3 and 8pm

  • ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

  • INFO: In Malay with English surtitles

Zulfadli wrote the lyrics, with well-known musical names Elaine Chan and Babes Condes coming in as music director and vocal coach respectively.

Playwright and director both say the work offers a feminist update to traditional characters. Kancil is female, for example, and instead of easygoing makciks, the women are smart enough to solve their own problems.

Where Alkesah sticks with tradition is in offering sharp commentary on current issues, according to 37-year-old playwright Zulfadli. "These characters of oral literature were used as critics for the elite back then."

He declines to share details, but says: "This is a show for everyone, regardless of whether you know the characters or not.

"And not to brag, it's funny."

Akshita Nanda

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2018, with the headline 'Characters from folklore in musical'. Print Edition | Subscribe