Theatre review: Angkat redefines the Singapore story through reality TV at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

(from left) Adib Kosnan, Moli Mohter, Hafidz Abdul Rahman, Izzul Irfan in Angkat at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2019.
(from left) Adib Kosnan, Moli Mohter, Hafidz Abdul Rahman, Izzul Irfan in Angkat at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2019.PHOTO: MONOSPECTRUM PHOTOGRAPHY


Nabilah Said & Noor Effendy Ibrahim / M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2019/ NAFA Studio Theatre/ Jan 26

This slick and funny production by playwright-producer Nabilah Said and director Noor Effendy Ibrahim makes a deep point by staying sharply superficial.

On the surface, Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native is about a young Singaporean woman named Salma (Shafiqhah Efandi) competing in a national singing contest. Salma was born to British parents but considers herself Malay since she is an "anak angkat" or adopted child brought up by Mak, a Malay woman (played by Moli Mohter).

Salma speaks Malay with a pronounced accent - which does not extend into her singing voice - and the rest of the cast constantly comment on her non-Asian features.

Looking deeper, Salma is Singapore, a blend of East and West and undeniably uncomfortable with aspects of her heritage. Singapore's historical role as one of the states of Malaysia becomes a contentious point later in the play, when a song written during this period is reworded by organisers to edit out any mention of the past.

Excellently acted by a cast which includes Adib Kosnan, Hafidz Abdul Rahman and Izzul Irfan, this play by Nabilah has been three years in the making. Teater Ekamatra was originally to stage her script but the work was not deemed ready by production time in December 2017. Instead, that year director Irfan Kasban created a narrative based on her concept, which focused on the confusion of a biracial woman who is told at times to emphasise her Malay identity and at others to deny it, in order to win a singing contest.

Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native instead considers the stories that are included and excluded in Singapore's national narrative. The reality TV format extends to much of the staging. Characters break the fourth wall and many of Mak's reminiscences are mediated through a TV screen as well. Viewers are led to consider just how stories, even those seemingly based on facts, are constructed, presented and consumed.

Apart from the tendency to gloss over Singapore's past history with the federation of Malaysia, the play touches on the disconnect between Singapore's island nature and the lifestyle of today. The production design has islands of light or green colour surrounding an urban mainland, symbolised by a dining table and television. The cast propels a bottomless boat around the stage with their feet, but at certain points in the play, characters are jettisoned from the narrative. They reappear as ghosts on the surrounding islands, but their voices are always at the edge of hearing, rather than part of the main action.

Even Salma's mother begins the play by recalling her life as an island-dweller off the mainland coast but as the action continues, her voice becomes less important. Her frustrating silence makes a point about overlooked histories but this would have been even sharper if the production had lived up to its title and reclaimed her story.