The Star Malaysia - Star2
Mahsuri ( And Other Peculiar Tales) brings Malaysian myths to life in a cafe setting.
MENTION the pontianak, and most people will probably shudder in horror. In Malay folklore, a pontianak is believed to be the bloodsucking ghost of a pregnant woman, and has been considered a creature to be feared for generations.
Theatre director Shafeeq Shajahan, however, sees things quite differently.
According to him, the pontianak is not just a monster from myth. Rather, she is a manifestation of feminism.
“A lot of people see her as a scary beast. But she’s a woman – pregnant and beautiful – but who has been scorned by men. This ‘ wife woman’ being has been violated,” says Shafeeq in an interview in Petaling Jaya last week.
“All her feminity has been stripped away from her. And this is her revenge. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he adds. Shafeeq’s modernist take on the legend of the pontianak is one of four stories presented in his latest production, Mahsuri ( And Other Peculiar Tales): A Musical at Melt On Cafe in Subang Jaya in Selangor. The show, starting on May 27, is a revamp of four classic Malaysian folk tales, each told with a contemporary twist.
“It’s a concept I came up with about a year- and- a- half ago. I realised that Malaysia is such fertile ground for folk tales and legends. The idea is to revive them in a modern way,” says Shafeeq, who also wrote Mahsuri ( And Other Peculiar Tales): A Musical’s music and lyrics with Ian Nathaniel.
The stories of Mahsuri, Pontianak, Bawang Putih and Bawang Merah, and Puteri Lindungan Bulan are part of the show.
“I chose these four stories because they are all about women, and how they were treated back then, and also how they should be treated today.”
Mahsuri ( And Other Peculiar Tales) is presented by Liver and Lung Productions, a theatre company founded by Shafeeq. The company has previously performed several theatre shows in London ( including Justify My Preferences in 2015), where Shafeeq studied at University College London.
Mahsuri ( And Other Peculiar Tales) will mark Liver and Lung Productions’ first full- length production here.
The show features the talents of Badrika Bahadur, Badrish Bahadur, Iz Sulaini, Phraveen Arikiah and Nabilah Hamid.
Mahsuri centres around an autistic boy ( Badrish), who is taken to a cafe by his sister ( Badrika), who works as a waitress there. After he is unable to contain his stress and anxiety, the boy is given a book of Malaysian folk stories, and soon takes solace in the stories. The show will be set in an actual cafe in Subang Jaya, which will be transformed into the various settings of the folk tales. The actors will also play multiple roles. “It’s a challenging show, so we needed a cast with a lot of versatility. I’m glad we could find actors like that,” says Shafeeq.
Nathaniel, the show’s co- lyricist and co- composer, reveals that all of Mahsuri’s songs are original compositions. “There will be very different songs for each of the four stories in this musical. For example, Bawang Putih and Bawang Merah’s music will be very light ... a bit on the comical side. The lyrics are very funny, and it will end with a ‘ feast number’,” says Nathaniel.
“I tried to fuse a lot of Indian rhythms with Malay gamelan music, along with some Chinese accents. I also tried to revamp it all into this modern musical theatre jazz format,” adds Shafeeq.
Actor Badrish, who plays the autistic boy at the centre of the story, says his role is a very challenging one.
He prepared for it by studying the British author Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night- Time, which featured a boy with learning difficulties as the main character.
“It’s not an easy character, and I was very nervous to take on the role at first. In playing an autistic person, you have to have respect for the role. They see things from a different perspective. I also talked to my drama teachers and other actors, asking them what they would do if playing such a character,” says Badrish, 15.
Badrish also has the privilege of performing the musical’s closing number, a wrap- up medley of the events.
Cafe backdrop or not, Mahsuri, he mentions, is a one-of- a- kindshow that will be very entertaining to watch.
Mahsuri ( And Other Peculiar Tales) is on at Melt On Cafe, No 27- G, Jalan SS15/ 4, Subang Jaya in Selangor from May 27- 29. Tickets are RM70 ( adults) and RM55 ( concession). To book tickets, visit mahsuri.brownpapertickets.com or facebook.com/liverandlung.