Social Phobias Break the Fourth Wall at ‘Langkau’

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Langkau

Created & performed by Shahrul Mizad, Iefiz Alaudin, Murni Omar, Faillul Adam and Fasyali Fadzly
Pentas 2, klpac
4-6 August 2017

 

Review by Mia Sabrina Mahadir

Mental health awareness has been on the rise in recent years, even in Malaysia. It is amazing to see more Facebook shares about mental disorders, and more parents, teachers, partners and friends acknowledging the existence of such disorders among their circle of friends. The show Langkau tackled social anxiety disorder in a very interesting context: the Malay community itself.

Langkau is a mixture of contemporary dance and theatre performance, without set or props, but with generous usage of lighting and visual projections. The piece was devised by the performers involved: Shahrul Mizad, Iefiz Alaudin, Murni Omar, Faillul Adam and Fasyali Fadzly, who was also the dramaturg. The story followed the actors as they rehearse for a show, and the scenes alternated between the show being rehearsed, and the rehearsal itself.

When it started, I instantly got the idea that this is a contemporary and experimental performance. The fourth wall was broken at the very beginning, as the actors walked in and out via random entrances, and talked directly to the sound assistant upstairs. The stage was brightly lit with white lights, and the first performing movement started out of nowhere. There was almost no hint as to where the story would go, and as someone who does not usually read show descriptions (or watch movie trailers), it was all very exciting to me.

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I initially thought this was going to be a parody of the performing arts scene. The show began with the performers in a rehearsal space, deciding on their next move. Just like actual rehearsals, the performers gossiped about the industry and everyone in it. The director then got them to rehearse the pre-show announcement themselves, because they assumed Joe Hasham would not be able to do it in Bahasa Malaysia.

But then the light changed, and the scene transitioned into a laundromat setting. This was creatively done by having a looped video recording of actual washing machines at a laundromat projected onto the screen, with sounds attached for added effect. At the same time, Murni Omar and Faillul Adam portrayed two different washing machines who were eavesdropping on the conversations between two customers at the laundromat, played by Shahrul Mizad and Iefiz Alaudin. Here is where Langkau went the extra mile breaking down social phobias.

Shahrul Mizad carried the role of an old museum store manager, who, after being yelled at by a younger supervisor, avoided other staff and ate his lunch alone every day. His fragile, pained expression yielded emotions from the audience, despite having been the loudest comic just moments ago in the previous scene. Likewise for Iefiz Alaudin, whose detailed ticks and gestures shaped the anxious character so well; we felt his shame rush over us when he related a monologue of being demeaned by an old friend.

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In between the main characters’ dialogue, the washing machines were having one of their own, layered with striking dance movements. Murni Omar and Faillul Adam moved in grace and harmony, creating a relationship the audience got to love since their legs first stirred at the start of the show. Their energy together was incredible.
What I love about the whole concept is the usage of the laundromat as key to every story. Fasyali and team did a wonderful job sprouting stories from a single element, and it’s delightful how they all fitted together. The script was improvised during some parts of the show, which made some of the rehearsal scenes drag. Although this lessened the pace for emotional impact, the team overcame it with brilliant incorporation of local culture into the script. Their mocking of society’s worst habits of mengumpat (gossiping), menegur (telling people off), and judging others was hilariously done.

Props given to the team also for the vivid visual and sound presentation. Lights were used for scene transitions as well as blocking. A box-shaped light, for example, gave the impression of the characters being under the light, but having darkness at their centre. The usage of visual projection can be tacky if not handled well, but this performance made sure they did.

It was a shame not many people came the night I was there. As mentioned in the play, “Orang klpac mana ada nak datang tengok show kita ni” (“klpac visitors are not going to watch our show”), suggesting that the audiences accustomed to watching English theatre at klpac might not watch a Malay play. I believe we all should, because Malay theatre players at this juncture are definitely ones to watch out for.

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All photos by Faizal Fauzi, courtesy of the producers of ‘Langkau’.

A former writer at Arteri Malaysia, Mia Mahadir was trained to review theatres not just for their technicality, but also for their psychological and societal contributions. Mia also acts, directs, produces, and stage manages.


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