History revisited at Teater Kami's Hayat Hayatie

Hayat Hayatie features a cast of newcomers as well as performers from the original staging. Above from left: Shahril Wahid, Dalifah Shahril, Amirah Yahya and Norain Mohd Aksan.
Hayat Hayatie features a cast of newcomers as well as performers from the original staging. Above from left: Shahril Wahid, Dalifah Shahril, Amirah Yahya and Norain Mohd Aksan.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

After 15 years, Teater Kami restages play about Singaporean comfort women

Teater Kami's restaging of Hayat Hayatie is a blast from the past for director Khairi Razaai.

It is his comeback show in Singapore after 15 years performing and teaching in Australia.

To his surprise, the play about a Singaporean "comfort woman" in World War II remains as topical as when he devised it with other members of Teater Kami in 2002.

News headlines this month chart continuing friction between Japan and South Korea over girls and women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

When Khairi, 48, first had his idea, it was after reading an article in Berita Harian about women in Singapore and Malaysia who had suffered similarly during the Japanese Occupation.

  • BOOK IT /HAYAT HAYATIE

  • WHERE: Malay Heritage Centre Auditorium,85 Sultan Gate

    WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 3and8pm

    ADMISSION: $30with discounts for students, seniors and National Service personnel (e-mail teater.kami@gmail.com or call 9723-5774)

    INFO: In Malay with English surtitles

He says: "I wondered what became of their lives after they were back in society."

It also made him think about women who had suffered other forms of abuse. Were they able to move on and, if not, why not?

Khairi moved to Australia to do his bachelor of arts and then a master's degree in drama at the Queensland University of Technology. Malay theatre aficionados remember him as a founding member of Teater Kami.

The iconic Malay theatre troupe was the first to stage controversial works from now noted theatre names, such as playwright Noor Effendy Ibrahim and performer-director Aidli "Alin" Mosbit, in the 1990s.

More recently, in 2013, a play about the politics of the 1960s in South-east Asia, Merdekanya Kita (Our Independence), was banned in Malaysia for its sensitive subject matter.

Hayat Hayatie will also press buttons for some.

Khairi, the writer and director, wants to use history to understand the position of women in Malay society today. The titular character, Hayatie, is forced into a Japanese brothel in the 1940s. In 1998, Hayatie's adopted daughter suffers domestic torment.

Khairi says: "We want the audience to question what has changed for women and, if nothing has changed, to question why."

The largely female cast includes 20something newcomers Amirah Yahya and Norain Mohd Aksan as well as Dalifah Shahril.

Dalifah, along with the fourth performer, Shahril Wahid, was in the original staging. She played the young Hayatie then, a role now taken by Amirah.

Dalifah, 38, plays the older Hayatie and it is a lot harder to be convincing, she says.

"She has gone through so much trauma and hardship, but she is able to handle it. You can literally see her pain and see her handle it."

Equally challenging is the fact that this is arena theatre. At the Malay Heritage Centre, actors will perform surrounded by their audience. With no wings, no offstage area, the performers must be in character from start to finish.

Khairi likes the intimacy of this old-school style, in keeping with the historical setting.

"The focus is on the actors telling a story, literally storytelling because there are lots of monologue.

"The seats will be comfortable," he adds, "but the play may make the audience uncomfortable."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'History revisited'. Print Edition | Subscribe