Dream­ing of utopia

Power and ide­ol­ogy come to­gether in a lo­cal lit­er­ary adap­ta­tion of a Ge­orge Or­well clas­sic.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Arts - By ROUWEN LIN star2@thes­tar.com.my Kan­dang is on at Pen­tas 2, Kuala Lumpur Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre (KLPac), Sen­tul Park, Jalan Stra­chan, off Jalan Sul­tan Azlan Shah in Kuala Lumpur from Aug 10-12 at 8.30pm and Aug 13 at 3pm. Tick­ets: RM55 and RM45 (conces

DOES power beget cor­rup­tion, fear and op­pres­sion? Let us count the ways.

Ge­orge Or­well’s beloved al­le­gor­i­cal work, An­i­mal Farm, which is based on the Rus­sian Revo­lu­tion and the sub­se­quent for­ma­tion of a com­mu­nist state, will be given a lo­cal spin in an up­com­ing Malay lan­guage adap­ta­tion called Kan­dang by fa­ther and son team Tan Sri Muham­mad Ali Hashim and Omar Ali.

Here, the pur­suit and trap­pings of power, a theme that re­mains as rel­e­vant as ever in mod­ern day so­ci­ety as it was when Or­well wrote it in 1945, will be ex­am­ined within a more re­gional con­text.

Fol­low­ing on the heels of their first col­lab­o­ra­tion last year in Dato’ Seri (an adap­ta­tion of Shake­speare’s Mac­beth), Kan­dang will be staged at the Kuala Lumpur Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre (KLPac) from Aug 10-13. It is pre­sented by The Ac­tors Stu­dio, with a cast com­pris­ing Clarence Kuna, Farah Rani, Faez Ma­lik, Ashraf Zain, Nik Wa­heeda, Joe Chin, Zul Zamir, Na­bil Zakaria, Coe­bar Abel and Endee Ah­mad.

Omar, who is also the show’s di­rec­tor, shares that he wanted to tackle “some­thing more mod­ern” af­ter work­ing on Dato’ Seri, which his fa­ther was agree­able to, but only on the con­di­tion that it had to be some­thing with a mes­sage, some­thing mean­ing­ful.

They found that in An­i­mal Farm. “When we talk about power, we of­ten talk about the perks of power, and rarely about the re­spon­si­bil­ity, ac­count­abil­ity and the rip­ple ef­fects of its con­se­quences. Un­for­tu­nately, it is sel­dom this as­pect of power that ap­peals to peo­ple; in­stead, it is the prom­ise of what you can do with that power that draws them in,” says Omar in ref­er­ence to the themes ex­plored in An­i­mal Farm.

He ob­serves that Or­well’s work, which clev­erly makes use of an­thro­po­mor­phism in its sto­ry­telling, tracks the evo­lu­tion of the of­ten para­dox­i­cal na­ture of ide­ol­ogy-build­ing.

If there is one les­son that we can learn from his­tory, it is that mod­i­fi­ca­tions in­cor­po­rated into the sys­tem at large of­ten have an un­canny ten­dency to morph into some­thing that couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent than what it ini­tially set out to do.

“We dream of a bet­ter so­ci­ety, and we in­tro­duce changes to the sys­tem to at­tain that. But all too of­ten, even the most well-in­tended so­lu­tions evolve over time to be a prob­lem in it­self. This is a re­cur­ring theme in An­i­mal Farm ,jus­tas it is in the his­tory of mankind. I guess that’s why peo­ple say the road to hell is paved with good in­ten­tions,” muses Omar.

In one mem­o­rable scene in An­i­mal Farm, voices of dis­sent are quashed even be­fore they are heard, sti­fled with a new com­mand­ment boldly scrawled out for all to see: “all an­i­mals are equal, but some are more equal than oth­ers”.

Kan­dang’s move­ment di­rec­tor Ho Lee Ching points out that the an­i­mals in An­i­mal Farm rep­re­sent hu­man char­ac­ters dur­ing the time of the Rus­sian Revo­lu­tion, which makes tak­ing on Kan­dang an in­ter­est­ing, though chal­leng­ing, project.

“It’s tricky re­ally, be­cause we are peo­ple, play­ing an­i­mals who were writ­ten based on peo­ple,” she says.

De­scrib­ing the “phys­i­cal lan­guage” used in Kan­dang as “an­i­mal­is­tic”, she shares that they have spared no ef­fort in get­ting the cast to con­vinc­ingly trans­form from ac­tor to an­i­mal, with much at­ten­tion paid to the “an­i­mals’ spine, breath, cen­tre of grav­ity and their rhythms”.

“It is not just mim­ick­ing an an­i­mal phys­i­cally, it is about get­ting them to be able to em­body the essence of the an­i­mal and utilise an­i­mal in­stincts in the cre­ation of their char­ac­ters. Af­ter all, Or­well had cho­sen these spe­cific an­i­mals to rep­re­sent real-life char­ac­ters, which means both the hu­man char­ac­ters and the an­i­mals have sim­i­lar qual­i­ties. We are all sim­ply an­i­mals,” ex­plains Ho.

There are also move­ment se­quences where the an­i­mals have to work, for in­stance, plough the fields or build an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem (in lieu of build­ing a wind­mill in the orig­i­nal text).

“These move­ment se­quences were ini­tially in­spired by farm work. I wanted to use some­thing that could be used for the dif­fer­ent kinds of work, and even­tu­ally latched onto the idea of us­ing sticks, draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from martial arts, colour guards and stomp­ing,” she shares.

Adapt­ing Or­well’s work, orig­i­nally writ­ten in English, into a Malay play did not come without its chal­lenges. A ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion was not to com­pro­mise the core mes­sage at the heart of the English au­thor’s work.

“Ev­ery trans­la­tion is an in­ter­pre­ta­tion, there­fore, ev­ery trans­la­tion is an adap­ta­tion. Our chal­lenge then be­came about strik­ing that balance of adopt­ing a lo­cal spin on things, yet re­tain­ing the voice of the orig­i­nal work,” says Omar.

He com­ments that as se­ri­ous as the sub­ject mat­ter is in An­i­mal Farm, it is pre­sented in such a light­hearted man­ner that you can’t help but have fun with it.

“It is a satir­i­cal al­le­gory and I hope our in­ter­pre­ta­tion in Kan­dang does not stray too far from the orig­i­nal. There is just some­thing so charm­ing about the way it dis­cusses so­ci­ety, hu­man civil­i­sa­tion and his­tory, and we hope this comes through in Kan­dang as well,” he adds.

Kan­dang runs for two hours, in­clud­ing a 15-minute in­ter­mis­sion. It is pre­sented in Malay with no sur­titles.

— KLPac

The cast of Kan­dang, a Malay adap­ta­tion of Ge­orge Or­well’s An­i­mal Farm, adapted by Omar Ali and Tan Sri Muham­mad Ali Hashim.

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