Roots that run deep

Theatre show A Man For All Sea­sons takes a closer look at what it means to live by one’s prin­ci­ples in the face of ad­ver­sity and death.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By DI­NESH KU­MAR MAGANATHAN life­[email protected]­tar.com.my

ENGLISH play­wright Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Sea­sons (AMFAS), which opens on Dec 7 at Pen­tas 2, Kuala Lumpur Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre (KLPAC), presents a very per­ti­nent ques­tion.

Are we will­ing to stand by the prin­ci­ples and be­liefs we hold on dearly to?

The play’s pro­tag­o­nist Sir Thomas More paid dearly and sac­ri­ficed high of­fice, his so­cial stand­ing and, ul­ti­mately, his life for stay­ing true to his prin­ci­ples and con­science.

“Peo­ple watch­ing AMFAS would prob­a­bly ask them­selves, ‘Could I be that good?’. We would love to think we can but when push comes to shove, would we do it?” says Scot­tish stage ac­tor Charles Don­nelly, who plays the tit­u­lar role here.

In­deed, it was this theme that quite im­me­di­ately caught the at­ten­tion of Joe Hasham, The Ac­tors Stu­dio (TAS) and Kuala Lumpur Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre’s (KLPAC) co-founder and artis­tic di­rec­tor, who di­rects this lat­est pro­duc­tion, when he first read it decades ago.

He went on to stage it at Pang­gung Ban­daraya DBKL in 1991 and once more in 2004 at TAS in Bangsar, KL.

“The play has a strong sense of be­lief and prin­ci­ples is a very strong theme. You’ve got the main char­ac­ter who many would think is some­thing of a fool be­cause of the way he be­lieved that his God was greater than his king and coun­try.

“God above ev­ery­thing else. This is the jour­ney this man takes and it is such a pow­er­ful story. I was sim­ply riv­eted by it,” says the 70-yearold di­rec­tor in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Hasham has gone back to this pow­er­ful work to con­clude TAS’ 30th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion this year. This show is sup­ported by Yayasan Hasanah and Bri­tish Coun­cil Malaysia.

The 180-minute AMFAS (with a 15-minute in­ter­mis­sion) fea­tures Don­nelly, 69, Patrick Teoh, 72, Qa­har Aqi­lah, 37, De­bra Teng, 50, Mia Sara Shauki, 20, Colin Kir­ton, 59, Reza Zainal Abidin, 51, Vale Wong, 36, Na’a Mu­rad, 54, Omar Ali, 36, Tung Jit Yang, 29, Murtada Ibrahim, 38, Axyr Wil­liam, 20 and Han­nan Barak­bah, 26.

The play, which was adapted into a mul­ti­ple award-win­ning movie in 1969, is loosely based on the his­tor­i­cal events lead­ing up to the un­for­tu­nate ex­e­cu­tion of Sir Thomas More (Don­nelly), the 16th cen­tury Chan­cel­lor of Eng­land.

More res­o­lutely re­fuses to en­dorse King Henry VIII’S (Na’a) wish to di­vorce his wife Cather­ine of Aragon, who failed to bear him a son, so that he could marry Anne Bo­leyn.

As a de­vout Catholic, More stands by his prin­ci­ples, even at the risk of his life, de­spite many at­tempts by the king to egg him on. This doesn’t sit well with his ri­val Thomas Cromwell (Teoh), a lawyer and states­man, who is in­fu­ri­ated with More’s de­fi­ance.

“I’m the bad guy in the story. Cromwell is am­bi­tious and ruth­less and wants to help engi­neer Henry’s di­vorce from Queen Catharine. He is not be­yond de­ceit and us­ing per­jury to get his way. He sees More as a most un­rea­son­able per­son and doesn’t un­der­stand his need to stick to his prin­ci­ples to the point of death,” says Teoh, who orig­i­nally played Car­di­nal Wolsey in TAS’S 1991 pro­duc­tion.

Teoh re­mem­bers his first steps into the world of theatre with this pro­duc­tion.

“At the time, Joe and Fari­dah (Mer­i­can) were friends and clients of my record­ing stu­dio for their ad­ver­tis­ing work. Joe had con­ducted an act­ing course prior to that pro­duc­tion in which I was a stu­dent.

“Af­ter the course, he ca­su­ally asked me if I would like to be cast in a play that he and Fari­dah would be pro­duc­ing. And I, just as ca­su­ally said yes. Joe cast me in the role of Car­di­nal Wolsey, the Lord Chan­cel­lor. My scene with Thomas More, played by the late Les­lie Dawson lasted all of six or seven min­utes I think.

“And the rest, they say, is his­tory. I was for­tu­nate that the crit­ics were kind and from that first step on the boards I be­gan to get of­fers from other theatre com­pa­nies as well as from Joe and Fari­dah for their later pro­duc­tions.”

Twenty eight years later, Teoh fi­nally gets his wish to play his pre­ferred role in this play.

“Even back then, I had told Joe that the role I would like to play is that of Cromwell,” he men­tions.

Is this up­com­ing show also a timely con­ver­sa­tion piece in re­la­tion to Malaysia - past, present and fu­ture?

“My world view? The Malaysia of 1991 was ... a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the Malaysia Ba­haru of today. For me, in more ways than one, it was a bet­ter Malaysia. We felt closer as cit­i­zens of one coun­try, we worked hard, to­gether, we re­spected and un­der­stood each other’s reli­gions, cul­tures and unique needs. We were more Malaysian than Malays, Chi­nese, In­di­ans and oth­ers,” says Teoh.

On stage, the ex­changes be­tween Cromwell and More are bound to be ex­plo­sive.

In the end, More re­fuses to give in to the king’s de­mand no mat­ter what and was con­victed of trea­son and fi­nally ex­e­cuted.

More was also a fea­tured char­ac­ter in the hit tele­vi­sion se­ries The Tu­dors (2007), which chron­i­cles the life and ex­ploits of King Henry VIII.

“Here is a man with very strong morals, de­vout, strong willed and prin­ci­pled. Some­thing we don’t find nowa­days un­for­tu­nately,” says Hasham.

“Hav­ing gone through a Catholic up­bring­ing my­self, I can re­late very strongly to him. It’s some­thing you can’t shake off which is why I can’t un­der­stand peo­ple who don’t have or live by prin­ci­ples.”

Don­nelly, who’s no stranger to the KL stage, agrees with Hasham. But the Glas­gow, Scot­land-born stage ac­tor be­lieves the au­di­ence may also “look at the char­ac­ter and say he’s an id­iot. Why doesn’t he just give in and live the best life he pos­si­bly can?”

De­scrib­ing his char­ac­ter as “com­pli­cated”, Don­nelly, whose stage credit in­cludes Some­one Who’ll Watch Over Me (2011 & 2012), The Com­plete Works Of Wil­liam Shake­speare (Abridged) (2012) and Shake­speare’s Men (2016), says More stands out be­cause he was so clever.

“He was fo­cused and knew ex­actly the right thing to do. But it’s not easy be­ing him and ul­ti­mately, he paid dearly with his life.”

In the end, while the play may be a clas­sic and his­toric in na­ture, Bolt deals with very real and rel­e­vant themes.

“It all boils down to, ‘Can I live with my­self?’. As long as I can wake up ev­ery morn­ing and sleep ev­ery night and say ‘Yes, I can live with my­self. I’m fine and happy’, then all’s good.

“But there are times to be able to do that, you have to do cer­tain things and not con­form. Don’t just do some­thing be­cause peo­ple want you to,” cautions Hasham.

“Truly, it’s that thing about look­ing in the mir­ror and ask­ing whether you like look­ing at the per­son look­ing back at you,” con­cludes Don­nelly.

A Man For All Sea­sons plays at Pen­tas 2, KLPAC, Sen­tul Park, Jalan Stra­chan, off Jalan Sul­tan Azlan Shah in KL from Dec 7-14. Show­times: Dec 7 (8pm), Dec 10-14 (8pm). Dec 8 and 15 shows at 3pm. Tick­ets: RM100, RM80 and RM60. More info: www.klpac.org.

— Dev Lee

The cast of A Man For All Sea­sons (from left) Qa­har Aqi­lah, Mia Sara Shauki, Charles Don­nelly, De­bra Teng and Tung Jit Yang.

— Photos: sam Tham/the star

mia, daugh­ter of malaysian ac­tor and co­me­dian afdlin shauki, plays the role of Lady alice more, daugh­ter of sir Thomas more, played by don­nelly.

The cast and pro­duc­tion team at a re­cent re­hearsal for the show A Man For All Sea­sons.

‘even back then, I had told Joe (Hasham) that the role I would like to play is that of cromwell,’ says Teoh. — dev Lee

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