Saturday, March 5, 2022

Poster of Balada Tun Fatimah

When Abang purchased the ticket to this performance, Abang was fully aware that this was not the first time the work has been staged. Abang was aware that it was staged in 2012, as part of Pesta Raya. Abang was also aware that it was also staged in 2017. This time round, instead of Dalifah Shahril, TeaterKami LTD has Suhaili Safari to be the one woman cast. Of course, if you were to have Suhaili Safari as your cast member, you must make sure that you have singing and dancing incorporated into the whole play, because that is the one thing that separates her from the other actors. And she truly delivers the songs and dances beautifully throughout the piece. As an actor and director, Abang was just amazed with her level of energy and commitment on stage as she sang, danced and performed multiple roles. Her embodiment of the story-teller and Tun Fatimah was particularly captivating, and kept the audience members engaged throughout the play. She moved us to tears in the scene where Tun Fatimah lost her entire family. As audience and spectator, we were equally angry with the unjust treatment. We, too, wanted to rebel against the Sultan.  

The unfortunate thing was that as an audience, the beauty of the language was sometimes lost, as the live background music tend to overpower Suhaili’s vocals, making it hard for Abang to appreciate the beauty in either, as both the music and the spoken words fight for attention. Abang believes that the music could have co-existed more harmoniously with the spoken words, if the quieter moments of the music have been timed with more precision to coincide with the more important parts of the spoken words, especially at the beginning of the piece. Perhaps more dance and movements could have been incorporated in between the dialogue/ storytelling to allow the music to therefore take precedence at certain moments, so as to allow audience members to appreciate the music a little bit more at the beginning of the piece.

Photo taken from Berita Harian


In terms of lighting, abang do have some questions with regards to the choices made. For example, in the introduction of Tun Fatimah, the principal character, a light was chosen to light a spot from the top of the character’s head. While Abang understands that the desired effect was to have that glow, to resemble the beauty of the character, Abang feels that the effect can only be achieved if there was enough face light too. The lack of a face light will make it very tricky to achieve this beauty-glowy effect on stage, because the top light will end up casting a lot of shadows on the character’s face. That was exactly what happened in the introduction of the principal character. This could have still been salvaged if the actor have been told or directed to tilt her face at an angle to let whatever light that have been provided, to land on her face, thus minimising the shadows. Unfortunately for the night abang watched the performance, the actor did not manage to do this.


In terms of structure and pace of performance, Abang feels that the piece was quite unforgiving to someone who may not have any idea of who Tun Fatimah was and her history with the land of Malacca and Sultan Mahmud Shah. Perhaps some use of multimedia could have facilitated the audience understanding of the who’s who. Perhaps if the piece had been paced just a little slower, it would have been easier for a younger audience member to digest what was being said. Do note that as an audience member, Abang was already struggling to pay attention to the spoken words as the loud live music continued playing in the background, so Abang cannot imagine what will happen to an audience member who have no background knowledge of what the piece is about. They would have totally been thrown off if they were not able to listen and digest the information given during the introduction of the various characters at the beginning of the piece. 


Lastly, looking at the demography of the audience members during the performance slot abang was watching, abang is not even sure if the director has managed to achieve what she wanted to achieve in the first place - to preserve the Malay language together, in parallel, with Malay music and culture for the sake of our future generation”. As  a full time educator and a practicing artist,  Abang feels that the younger audience will have difficulty finding an entry point to appreciate the beauty of the language in this piece, as most of the theatrical elements imbued in this piece are, abang feels, more catered towards the older audience—people who just wants to reminisce and enjoy their evenings immersed with nostalgia.


Of course, Abang is not discouraging you from watching this piece if it ever get staged again in the future. Abang just feels that if you intend to catch this, you need to first do your due diligence. Read up on Tun Fatimah and read up a little on the history of Malacca.


You may also want to refer to this list of words/ meanings which was included in the glossary section of their programme booklet;