Could you imagine living in a world where you slowly realise that your culture and heritage are dying and the traditional alphabet you’ve learned as a child is now barely recognisable by the members of your community? Hopefully, you will never have to consider that. Instead, come hear Mohamad Faizal Abdullah talk about it in his emotional yet facts-based performance, exploring the tension that exists between Singaporeans and a Malays, delving into the history, myths, reality, and politics surrounding the Malay community.
As I walked into the Network Theatre, I was greeted by a simple stage set with hundreds of pieces of paper neatly stacked in piles, and then slowly sprinkled on the floor – each containing Jawi characters. Faizal himself changed his outfit on stage, and dressed up in a traditional Malay attire, a baju Melayu, as he introduced the audience to the concept of the show. This attire added to the authenticity of the performance and the personal touch that Faizal brought to the stage. At certain moments, video projections of drawing Jawi characters or illustrations showing the life of Malays were displayed behind Faizal’s back, enhancing the storytelling.
The show begins with Faizal’s personal introduction not just of himself and his wife Khai, but also of his culture. Dotted with adorable, funny stories and a relatable immigration tale, the storytelling leads him to a deeper exploration of a lost culture, customs, heritage, and self.
It’s a show that raises human issues and provides a rare glimpse into what it feels like to be a Malay, and a mix of personal experiences and book quotations provide a combination of facts and real-life experiences. Throughout the performance, Faizal talks about Jawi characters, the Malay culture and typical behaviours, and the experiences of Malays in Singapore. He mentions the love he has for his country but at the same time, how Singapore discriminates against members of his community (both in formal and informal ways).
One critique I have of the show is that at some moments when Faizal speaks in Bahasa Melayu, it would have been helpful if the words were translated and projected on the wall in English. For a show that talks about keeping the culture inclusive, these scenes when there was no translation, felt like they went against the main show’s message and excluded some viewers from fully enjoying the play. However, despite this, the show was a touching experience, opening a window into the Malay world and immersing the viewer in the feeling of being a part of it.
The personal feel of the show was an added value, with Faizal sharing anecdotes about his wife and their journey to life in the UK. He also connected with the crowd on a level that was approachable and easily identifiable, making the story universal for those who have never been to Singapore or even left their country of origin. Faizal’s natural warmth, openness and ability to not take himself too seriously, were huge assets of the show.
Is the show ready for a London audience? While it may not be fully suitable, it struck a strong chord with Malaysian and Singaporean audiences present on the evening. The racial politics in Malaysia and Singapore are complex, and fully understanding the tensions and symbiosis between the communities in the region would require more than just a short show like this, but it’s a good start. We – as audience – are even encouraged to do some research ourselves, from checking Wikipedia to exploring the books read by Faizal on stage. So if you’re a culture geek- this show would give you an incredible shot of inspiration for your next project.
It is a thought-provoking and engaging performance that sheds light on important human issues and gives voice to a minority community. If you are a fan of fringe theatre, or simply interested in learning more about the Malays and their culture, I highly recommend this unique, enlightening performance.
Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? Who Took My Malay Away?
The Creative Team
Mohamad Faizal Abdullah – Creator & Performer
Isabell Kinga Markus – Illustrator
Jeffrey Choy – Video Designer
Maryam Noorhimli – Deviser & Sound Design
Faezah Zulkifli – Dramaturg
Jonathan Chan – Lighting Designer
Taufik Wan – Movement / Silat
Nur Khairiyah – Producer & Production Stage Manager