One suitcase, many journeys

Actress Elnie S. Mashari in Mama Lekas Pulang, one of eight monologues in Projek Suitcase.
Actress Elnie S. Mashari in Mama Lekas Pulang, one of eight monologues in Projek Suitcase. PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA

Hard-hitting monologues in Projek Suitcase by Teater Ekamatra left many audience members teary-eyed

A suitcase signifies a journey full of possibilities and adventure.

With Projek Suitcase, Malay theatre company Teater Ekamatra returns to form with hard-hitting monologues that take the audience on multiple journeys, excavating issues of family, dignity and pride.

There are eight monologues, with each running for 20 minutes. Audience members can watch four monologues a night and return on another day to catch the rest.

I caught Mister Bangsawan, Balik, Mama Lekas Pulang and Ana on the first night of the run.

In each, one actor, armed with a suitcase, carries out the immense task of bringing to life multiple characters, scenarios and time periods.

Actress Elnie S. Mashari in Mama Lekas Pulang, one of eight monologues in Projek Suitcase. PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA.

The plays all revolve around the theme of excavation. In fact, Projek Suitcase is an excavation of sorts for Teater Ekamatra - it was a concept the theatre company first explored in 2003.

In the case of Balik and Mama Lekas Pulang, the plays dug at personal roots, specifically, that of mother-daughter relationships.



    Teater Ekamatra

    Malay Heritage Centre

    Last Wednesday

Both were unflinching in their exploration of loss and memory, and it showed - many audience members had tear-stained faces after.

Balik, written by Zulfadli Rashid, examines the idea of home. Farah Ong nailed her dual portrayal of Ain - a daughter who has to move on after losing both her parents - as well as that of her late mother, who is at first naggy and seems slightly unhinged, but is revealed to be a woman with a broken heart.

Ain's little refuge, created out of an ordered mess of cardboard, fairy lights and clothes pins (hat tip to the beautiful direction of Noor Effendy Ibrahim), mirrors her plight - rough around the edges, but still home.



    WHEN: Till Sunday, 8pm

    WHERE: Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate.

    TICKETS: $32 for a one-day pass, $48 for a two-day pass (tickets available at the door from 7.30pm onwards each day). Tickets for tomorrow's show are sold out.


Also hitting it out of the ballpark was actress Elnie S. Mashari, in Aidli 'Alin' Mosbit's Mama Lekas Pulang. Directed by Molizah Mohd Mohter, it is a depiction of how dementia affects an ageing mother and her daughter.

In one of the last scenes, the seasoned actress, standing hunched and with her back to the audience, embodies the helpless, babbling, mother.This serves as a reminder that the impending frailty of ageing parents is tough to confront.

While these two plays were effective character studies, the remaining two made me aware of one other looming character - the Istana Kampong Glam, once a Malay palace and now occupied by the Malay Heritage Centre.

Due to the haze, Mister Bangsawan, Ana and the other outdoor shows were moved indoors.

Veteran actor Azman Shariff as Mister Bangsawan (written by veteran writer M. Saffri A. Manaf and directed by Faizal Abdullah) pulls the audience in two directions as he proudly tells us about bangsawan, traditional Malay opera, and then laments its apparent death.

He gestures to a collection of wigs and accessories signifying different characters in a typical bangsawan, laid out on the floor of the museum's gallery, and mockingly asks: "Having a bangsawan exhibition is good enough?"

Dressed in a lemon yellow baju kurung and songkok - traditional Malay garb - he appears happy, but allows the question about whether an important part of Malay culture has been lost.

The last play, Ana, goes back even further in time, with the Sultan's wife addressing the audience as her subjects as she prepares to leave the palace and an unhappy marriage.

The pacing could have been better, but playwright and director Irfan Kasban made good decisions about opening up the space at the front of the museum.

Actress Munah Bagharib comes close to the audience and yet leaves them behind, opening the doors and then closing them - making us aware and yet closed off from the outside world.

Language-wise, Mister Bangsawan and Ana used smatterings of classical Malay which may confound some, though this was justifiable, given the subject matter.

One quibble: Non-Malay speakers might struggle to understand all the plays, performed largely in Malay, as the printed surtitles do not fully capture the spirit of the production.

But overall, Projek Suitcase was loaded with life and meaning, and the unpacking was both enjoyable and heartbreaking to watch .

The involvement of talents, both young and old, and the choice of venue enriched the experience, allowing us to look at the past and contemplate the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2015, with the headline 'One suitcase, many journeys'. Print Edition | Subscribe