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“Anike” Review – On Being Overdramatic and A Bad Audience January 22, 2007

Posted by drowmage in Drowmage's rants, Events, Theatre, Theatre Review.
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For the full synopsis of the play, please refer to Cape Poetic’s website.

The Drowmage decided to watch the play “Anike” last Saturday at Wisma Kebudayaan SGM (Sokka-Gakkai Malaysia), not knowing what to expect, considering the last time the Drowmage had watched a play was about 2 years ago, back in Pearl Isle.

Delayed by about 10 – 15 minutes, the play soon got off to a rocky start. Or, in the Drowmage’s own perspective, a dull start. The two female central characters, Yasmine and Anike, were overdramatic, and Yasmine (played by Saw Jin Jin) was too soft spoken in the beginning. Anike (played by May Kung), on the other hand, had projected her voice enough, but seemed to over-emphasized every single word in a rather monotonous display. Both girls did not seem to deliver their lines with ease, making one wonder if they were reciting a poem instead of acting.
At this point, I begin to remember a joke about William Shatner’s acting in “Star Trek”.

Although the emcee had requested for everyone to switch off their handphones, it surprises me how many completely kiasu people there who don’t pay heed to this request. A handphone had the audacity to ring in the middle of this performance.

The overdramatic pronunciations soon begin to irritate me – and I start comparing this to the movie version of Shakespeare’s “Merchant in Venice” – where Ralph Fiennes spouts the famous “All the world’s a stage” quote, with such flow and finesse.

Yasmine’s voice and performance begins to pick up a bit later, when she tries to talk Anike out of going against the king’s edict. She becomes more confident with her lines, delivering them with better conviction, and the play begins to pick up at this point.

Same handphone rings again – and I recognize the ringtone as “Auld Lang Syne”. The owner of the phone quickly cancelled the call, or switch off the phone. Must have been the latter, because I didn’t hear a peep out of the phone after that.

After Anike has declared her intention to cut down her brother’s body from the tree, and perform a proper burial for it, the two girls hug each other and they soon leave the scene. Enter the Chorus elder, played by Sreekala Nambiar, who tells the audience a little background story to the events which led up to the two girls’ discussion.

Jayaram Menon soon comes onstage as Maniaka, the Raja (King). The minute he delivered his first lines, and cast a searing look at the audience, I swear I nearly cowered in seat there and then. (That’s what I call acting – to be able to draw your audience into the scene – to bring a suspension of disbelief that you no longer feel that you are in the hall watching a play, but that you are in the scene itself.)

The row in front of me had this 2 people, a guy and a girl, in probably their early 20s. They kept snickering through the play. What’s ironic was that they were sitting in the ‘By Invitations only’ seats. Friends of the cast? Perhaps they found their friend’s acting funny? I suppress my irritation here, out of courtesy.

The messenger (Aliakbar Campwala), who is also the guard in charge of keeping watch on Sirat’s body approaches the king in a way which made me wonder (and judging by the weak laughs from the audience) – if he was meant to be the comic relief – and as the dialogue progressed, I came to the conclusion… yes, he was the comic relief. Too bad he didn’t establish his presence as that in the beginning.

(Criticisms aside, I had to remind myself that the play was, after all, being spoken in verse, having been adapted from a poem. Nothing’s perfect in this world.)

The sound effects was not too bad, where it was required, but I kept missing some of the more important lines or words being delivered, as to the microphones which were placed at the bottom of the stage were not picking up the actors’ voices very well. The problem, I conceived, was due to the speech microphones that had been set up, which were normally used for presentations, speeches, etc. Later when I spoke to the director, Himanshu, and the sound engineer, Ashwin, they told me that they had hoped to get what was termed “Shotgun mikes”, which was used to pick up sounds from a further distance, without causing huge amounts of feedback.
Comparing Microphones for Events and Theatre

The Drowmage has no gripes about the lighting. I’m never one to concentrate much on lighting anyway.

The costumes were impressive, and I have to hand it to the designer, Mohammad Hanif. Although I realized in the beginning that the Rajah’s regal costume reminded me of Chow Yun Fatt’s armour in the recent “Curse of the Golden Flower”; when I mentioned this to Hanif after the show, he insisted that he had come up with the designs way before “Curse” started their production. I couldn’t help but joke, “So Zhang Yimou stole the designs from you?” amidst the laughter.

Maniaka vs Chow Yun Fatt Costumes

 

Anike and Yasmine come onstage to face the Raja for their crimes, and he sentences Anike to a dark and dreary cave filled with snakes. Again, their performance give me goosebumps.

Guy in front keeps shaking his legs throughout the play. Parents don’t seem to teach their kids manners anymore, I believe. I resist the urge to kick his chair. Manners, you see.

Intermission is announced after this scene, and I end up talking to Wong Pui Nam’s publisher from Maya Press, who gives me a free copy of the published “Anike”. Cheers to Maya Press!

Intermission ends, and we proceed with Act 2.

Here we finally see Nadim, the Raja’s son, entering the room and confronting his father for the punishment against Anike. Played by Lim Yao-Han, the character sounds instead like an American teenager. Remember Alex Pettyfer in “Stormbreaker”? His mouth hardly moves and he seems rather wooden. His voice did not project AT ALL – and with that, and the rather un-expressive acting, Nadim ends up looking like a defiant teenage brat who wants things his way, instead of a son who stands up for his beliefs and the woman he loves. The Drowmage doubts that this was what Wong Pui Nam was trying to express in the poem.

Himanshu Bhatt, the director, makes a cameo appearance in the play as the prophetic ‘Tok Seth’, a seer. His performance was good as the mad seer, especially when he goes all prophetic and begins telling the cruel king about the pain and suffering he will endure for the punishment he has placed on his subject.

The only other gripe I have were pauses in between the scenes, which took too long. However, at the end of the day, the three actors which held the play up were Himanshu, Jayaram and Sreekala, with very clear and precise pronunciation; and a great performance.

Jayaram had me caught up in a very dramatic scene, when he discovers his son dead after Anike has hung herself. Just as he was howling in anguish, the irritating duo in front of me began snickering and chortling. Until now, the Drowmage is still trying to understand which part of the jungle did the two of them crawl out from.

After the play, I cornered the irritating duo. “Hi there.”

They paused and looked at me, smiling.

“I was just curious, what was funny about the play?” I asked in a nice tone. I am, after all, really curious. And nice.

They giggled, and shot nervous looks at each other as I pressed on. “No, really, I’m curious to know. What was so funny about the play? You seem to be enjoying it and laughing, and I was wondering if I may have missed something there. After all, I didn’t find it funny.”

They giggled again, and the girl spoke up in badly-accented English, “The words are very funny!” and they both started giggling again. That’s starting to chafe at my nerves.

“I see… well, I didn’t find it funny, you see,” I smiled at them. “Thanks anyway, cheers.”

Invited guests?? Or merely freeloaders with no appreciation of the arts? You decide.

A friend did mention that it’s better if a play, especially a dramatic one, has a small turnout of intellectuals or appreciative audience, rather than a full house of <insert insulting description of choice here>. I concur. I recommend that you try to watch the play for its intellectual properties, its hidden message and its excellent performance by the senior actors.

Drowmage speaks: The review above is a critical opinion of the Drowmage, with no intention of harming anyone’s feelings. In terms of the sound quality, the Drowmage was, after all, sitting in the 5th row from the front; imagine the poor fellows who had to pay for their tickets and were sitting 10 rows all the way to the back.