The Shapes & Shadows of Malaysia

18 May 2016

Masakini Theatre Company’s latest production is a simple love story highlighting Malaysia, told in not-so-simple ways.

Masakini Theatre Company, a MyCreative Ventures investee, is blazing the trail in our shadow theatre scene and their most recent production, Wayang – Malaysia Kita, is proof. It’s a simple love story that revolves around a Malaysian couple traveling across the country, performed by actors behind a white screen. Sabera Shaik, founder of Masakini and director of Wayang, says, “I thought I’d pick something nice – a love story that ends well. But I also want to allow the audience to fall in love with our country because we don’t travel within the country enough.” The production highlights some of Malaysia’s less-traveled sites such as Concubine Lane in Ipoh and the small town of Gemas in Negeri Sembilan.

This show marks Masakini’s fourth shadow production and its third in the Wayang series. The show is also co-directed by Chi Azim and choreographed by Dua Space’s Anthony Meh and Aman Yap. Wayang’s novel feature is not just its element of shadow, but also its dependence on human bodies in creating shapes and movement. There are scenes in caves, forests, and the sea, all conveyed with the power of human flexibility. While props aid some scenes, most of the show sees mysterious silhouettes contorting into things like cars, monuments, ostriches and buffaloes.

Sabera is drawn to this form of theatre for its display of the human form. “It’s a different perspective of looking at the human body and what it can do,” she says. “I think there’s some kind of magic when things fall into place.” Audiences see black shapes transitioning into others, or dissolving into one another while following to the beat of music. Meanwhile, backstage, actors are piling up atop each other to create shapes, while others lay flat on their stomachs holding up props. They flow in and out of scenes seamlessly, to achieve a stream of continuity that appears natural for the audience.

“It’s a lot of work. People think ‘Oh shadow, so what?’ But the logistics is incredible,” Sabera says. Backstage, every actor is alert throughout the length of the show, even when not in the scene. “If a friend of theirs loses a prop, they have to be able to help out,” she adds. The 16-strong cast comprises of actors from Masakini as well as Dua Space, all of whom are dancers, and were required to strengthen their bodies for two months in pre-production stages.  “Working with bodies is a challenge because not all actors have supple bodies,” Sabera says. Unlike shadow puppetry, the challenge of directing a life form to follow light and music is something that Sabera is all too familiar with.

Where human shadow play is concerned, there is also a lack of references for Sabera and her team to look up to. “We’re the only ones that do this sort of stuff,” she says. Months of experimenting with lights and shadows may culminate in a production like Wayang, but she yearns to meet more like-minded people in the scene to provide deeper insight into shadow theatre. In the meantime, Masakini organises monthly shadow theatre classes for kids to play out Malaysian festivals using their own shadows and cut-out props.

Watch Wayang – Malaysia Kita at:

Kuala Lumpur
Dates: 30 March – 2 April 2016, 8.30pm; 3 April, 3pm
Venue: Auditorium DBKL, Jalan Raja Laut

Seremban
Dares: 8 April – 9 April, 8.30pm
Venue: Auditorium D’Sury, Kompleks JKNN Negeri Sembilan, Jalan Sungai Ujong

Ticketing information here

By Surekha Ragavan

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