The Politics of ‘Tiga Dalam Kepompong’

Beautiful Flowers

Tiga Dalam Kepompong

Directed by Shafiq Shazim
23-26 November 2017
Kotak, Five Arts Centre, Taman Tun Dr Ismail


Review by Andy Darrel Gomes

“All good art is political!” Toni Morrison once said. “There is none that isn’t. And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.’”

A three-in-one performance, Tiga dalam Kepompong is the latest offering from Five Arts Centre’s emerging practitioners’ platform. Directed by Shafiq Shazim, the plays are all expressions of current local concerns, in subtle resistance to the status quo.

The play opens with “Beautiful Flowers”, written by Anjali Venugopal. It follows two siblings (sensitively and sharply acted by Megat Adli and Kween Keela Kamarudin) and their struggle with mental health. Set in a graveyard, the surrealistic play was written with rich imagery, describing depression as a giant spider with a terrorizing laugh that grapples with one’s head. The play addresses the stigma towards mental health by introducing the Fairy God Mama, (Alya Farhanah) a caricature who victim-blames the siblings for their predicament, but the end reveals that the characters’ pain stems from growing up with an abusive mother.

The play moves with a meditative pace but takes a strong stance against violence; scenes of abuse were eliminated altogether. Instead, the play confronts the audience with the ugly repercussions of the act: deterioration of mental health, brokenness and death, and suggests that surviving the aftermath of abuse may be the worst fate of all. The characters summoned every ounce of strength to fight the trauma caused by abuse, but their portrayal is respectful. It paints the siblings in the light of survivors and not victims – an important social stance.


“Peon”, a devised play, tells the story of a train ride gone awry, trapping three delivery men in a bomb threat. The play tackles our reliance on technology and how it might bring about mindlessness, as depicted by the characters’ endless loyalty towards a fictional delivery-assignment app called M.O.M – even in the face of death.

The play opens with a projection of moving sceneries from a train window as two passive characters portrayed by Nik Aqil and Hazmi Faiz take their seats. In silence, they busily chat on their phones while their messages pop up on the screen behind. Here, the director’s emphasizes the play’s warning with a very drastic choice: making the audience completely reliant on technology to understand the narrative. When a third man (the sullen Alif Azeman) enters and greets the others his friendly gesture is met with silence: a critique on how technology disconnects. The train eventually breaks down and Alif’s character provokes the others into a fight by simply questioning, “Is there really a bomb?”

The play’s sinister ending suggests that if we’re not careful, technology could rob us of our ability to think and makes us blind and complacent followers.

Kenapa TakTukar Nama

The final play is a devised one-woman show titled “Kenapa Tak Tukar Nama?”, a topical piece about Hoe Mei Ying (Yiky Chew) and her struggles as a new convert. Mei Ying has a clear goal: she wants to marry her Muslim boyfriend and go on a honeymoon to Istanbul. With bags packed and tickets already in hand, her only obstacle is the registration department’s refusal to produce a new Identity Card with her Muslim status but keeping her Chinese name.

The insightful piece opens a window into Malaysian life, laced with plenty of charming humour and heart-warming moments, while provoking important questions on what it means to be Malay or Muslim. Mei Ying’s pending IC cleverly symbolizes that something as personal as her identity is now uncertain, or worse, in the hands of others.

Yiky Chew transforms into many characters in this work, reflecting different responses to the character’s conversion. Mei Ying’s parents are supportive of her decision but anxious about the possibility of losing their daughter. “What if you die and they take you away?” the mother asks. Puan Fatimah, a worker at the registration office, is on a crusade to change Mei Ying’s mind. She emphasizes her desire to help Mei Ying become a better Muslim by adopting a Malay name.

All the characters were emphatically portrayed despite their sometimes questionable motives, causing the audience to examine a flawed system that drives them into oppressive behaviour. The play’s ending was uplifting, suggesting that humanity should always take precedence over man-made laws. 

As a whole, Tiga dalam Kepompong is an insightful look into the current social landscape of the country. It’s an invitation to explore issues tugging on the heartstrings of young Malaysians and a platform where their voices can be heard.

Andy Darrel Gomes writes, directs and acts in performing arts and films. He works closely with youths through Project Spect-Actor, a Theatre of the Oppressed movement in Malaysia, and lectures on theatre at Taylors College.

All photos courtesy of Five Arts Centre.

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