Family stuck in violence

It is hard to tell affection and animosity apart in Cerita Cinta, where the family patriarch abuses those he loves

Saiful Amri Ahmad Elahi (holding plate), Joe Jasmi (on table), Dalifah Shahril (lying face down) and Shafiqhah Efandi in Cerita Cinta by akulah BIMBO SAKTI.
Saiful Amri Ahmad Elahi (holding plate), Joe Jasmi (on table), Dalifah Shahril (lying face down) and Shafiqhah Efandi in Cerita Cinta by akulah BIMBO SAKTI. PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY




Esplanade Theatre Studio/Thursday

Love and violence are paralysingly intertwined in Cerita Cinta (or "Love Story" in Malay). The play even starts with two pairs of actors grappling or groping each other in separate areas of a chicken-wire stage.

It is hard to distinguish between affection and animosity as the family patriarch Roslan (Saiful Amri Ahmad Elahi) holds the family pet (Kaykay Nizam) in a death grip. In a different corner, the daughter of the house (Shafiqhah Efandi) is either comforting or assaulting her younger brother (Al Hafiz Sanusi) in a powerful physical portrayal of fear and confused lust.

Silent and bitter, Roslan's wife Maslina (Dalifah Shahril) cooks in the kitchen.

Unnoticed by most of the family, the ghost of Roslan's father (Joe Jasmi) climbs onto the dining table. This is the literal spectre hanging around the family, alongside the unseen spectre of domestic violence.

Interestingly, Roslan displays unadulterated affection only to this confused old ghost, trying again and again to lay it to rest - and failing, just like he fails to control his violent temper.

The family is trapped in a cycle of abuse and co-dependency illustrated through repetitive everyday tasks: cooking, purifying themselves for ritual prayer, eating, becoming unclean again through Roslan's violent outbursts.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

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

    ADMISSION: $30 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

    INFO: In Malay with English surtitles. Advisory: This performance contains mature themes and violence. The admission age is 16 and older

In their lives, violence is so commonplace that the daughter hits her boyfriend (Kaykay again) and slaps her brother to show affection.

First staged in 1995, Cerita Cinta has a new cast and a new character - the family pet, added as another outlet for Roslan's affection - for this staging presented by the Esplanade.

Saiful Amri is a powerhouse on stage as Roslan, a frighteningly easy character to sympathise with. Like the assam pedas cooked by Maslina, there is both sweet and sour in his relationships.

So, like victims of domestic violence, the viewer alternately loves and fears this abuser who buys cigarettes for his trembling wife, comforts his daughter after a break-up and - like all bullies - is touchingly frightened of being left alone.

With the twisted logic abusers use, he almost kills those he loves in trying to keep them.

Haunting live music from director-playwright Noor Effendy Ibrahim and sound artist anGie seah adds a terrible beauty to each act, but never makes the play easier to watch.

Effendy wants to pull the audience into the static loops this family exists in, but constantly reminds them how wrong the violence is. It is not banal, not to be brushed away.

Each performance is followed by a post-show discussion addressing issues such as violence in theatre and masculine identity.

Cerita Cinta takes viewers into a dark space, but also offers a way out at the end.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2018, with the headline Family stuck in violence. Subscribe