Restaging Anak Melayu for a new generation

Anak Melayu stars (from far left) Amirah Yahya, Tysha Khan and Mastura Oli.
Anak Melayu stars (from left) Amirah Yahya, Tysha Khan and Mastura Oli. PHOTO: JOE NORZLAN

When Teater Kami first staged Anak Melayu (Malay Child) in 1992, the play written by Noor Effendy Ibrahim was panned for depicting sexually suggestive acts and using graphic language on stage.

A restaging this week for the theatre group's 30th anniversary still hits hard because the issues leading to youth delinquency remain the same, according to director Adib Kosnan.

Anak Melayu runs from tomorrow to Saturday at the Malay Heritage Centre. It portrays the friendship between six Malay teenagers grappling with issues from school to sex and drugs, and trying to reconcile traditional values with contemporary mores. It will be set in today's world of smartphones and social media.

The first staging in 1992 was investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department for the use of vulgar language, after viewers complained.

The then-Public Entertainment Licensing Unit of the CID had initially asked for vulgarities to be omitted from the staging. Teater Kami explained then that the graphic language was retained in keeping with the tone of the story.

Adib, 34, understands why the play might have been shocking then. Apart from the use of four-letter words, "anak melayu" is a term indicating a representative of the Malay community. "There are all these newspaper articles about a Malay youth who won a bursary. Effendy, the writer, was an 'anak melayu' too," he says, referring to the fact that the playwright was only 19 when Teater Kami staged the play.

Adib says: "When the play came out, people took a lot of issue. Is this what Malay youth are supposed to be like? Sometimes you don't want to acknowledge it, you want to highlight achievements, not misdeeds."


    WHERE: Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 3 and 8pm

    ADMISSION: $30 (standard), $25 (students and seniors). E-mail or call 6733-8969

    INFO: Advisory (some mature content). Performed in Malay with English surtitles

The cast includes Tysha Khan, Fadhil Daud, Amirah Yahya, Mastura Oli, Hafiz Hanafi and Mish'aal Syed Nasar.

Effendy is not involved in the staging, but says he is curious to know how this generation of Malay theatre-makers locates it in contemporary society. "What and where is the rage?"

It still exists, says Adib. "The language and images on stage could be less impactful today, but the characters remain," he adds, referring to the fact that there are many young people who lack opportunity and access to a better way of life.

Cast members Mastura and Amirah have acquaintances similar to the teen characters in Anak Melayu. "These are the kinds of people you see in school, the characters that there is gossip about," says 22-year-old Mastura. "In some ways it's so sad. We shouldn't talk about them like this. They are not bad children."

Amirah, 26, was in another production about Malay youth issues last year, the tongue-in-cheek Anwar Hadi Ramli script, The (Assumed) Vicious Cycle Of A (Melayu) Youth. It looked at milestones in a young Singaporean's life, including choice of higher education and career.

"That play was still hopeful of change. This is hopeless, nothing is going to change," she says. "Like Adib says, these are the characters swept under the rug."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2019, with the headline 'Restaging Anak Melayu for a new generation'. Print Edition | Subscribe