At first glance, the Malay theatre production Mak Yong Titis Sakti seems to be made up of two completely disparate elements. Talk about chalk and cheese.
Mak Yong Titis Sakti is one part A Midsummer’s Night Dream – one of the most famous romantic comedies ever written by the English playwright William Shakespeare. The other part is Mak Yong, a traditional form of dance-drama from the northern states of Malaysia.
You wouldn’t think they could blend so well. Yet for director/actress Norzizi Zulkifli, who first presented Titis Sakti (Magic Drops) in 2009, these two art forms have a lot more in common than most people think.
“Every time I read Shakespeare’s plays, they give me visuals which I realised, ‘Oh, this is very similar to my culture!’ Like Mak Yong, or Bangsawan theatre,” says Norzizi, 41, in a recent interview at KLPAC.
“Firstly, Shakespeare has a lot of stories about royalty, or a king, and so does Mak Yong. Next, the language they both use is highly poetic. And lastly, Shakespeare has supernatural characters, like Puck and Oberon, and so does Mak Yong!” she adds.
It’s no surprise then, why Norzizi was the perfect person to bring Titis Sakti to life. In 2009, the production, which was directed by her, opened to rave reviews and full houses at KLPac. The play is the only work that has been accepted as part of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive, and has been covered in various books and publications, and been studied at the National University of Singapore.
And now, almost a decade later, Titis Sakti is back on stage as the curtain-raiser to The Actor’s Studio’s 30th anniversary celebrations next year. It will feature returning 2009 cast members Zamzuriah Zahari, Rosnan Rahman, Asrulfaizal Kamaruzaman, Rosdeen Suboh, Shahanaros Shahruddin, Elza Irdalynna and Siti Farrah Abdullah along with new cast members and 12 musicians.
The show, which opens on Jan 27 at Pentas 1 in KLPac, is presented by the The Actor’s Studio Seni Theater Rakyat.
Titis Sakti tells of the misadventures of three couples, and is themed around three kinds of love: perfect love, forbidden love and unrequited love.
The production features Kamrul Hussin as music director, Zamzuriah Zahari as choreographer and Norzizi’s husband Bayu Utomo Radjikin, a renowned artist and gallerist, as set designer. The stage design will feature a mystical forest atmosphere inhabited by fairies and other unique creatures.
According to Norzizi, this upcoming production is a bigger version of her 2009 production, with better costumes, richer musical performances and a wider (stage) set. One major change is the language used. Previously, all the characters spoke in the Kelantanese Malay dialect.
This restaging, however, will see two characters speaking in English. Elza, who plays the prince of Indera Putra, and Safia Hanifah, who has the role of prince of Iskandar Muda, will speak in Shakespearean English. Two other actors will use urban Malay slang.
“I thought, why not create a fusion of languages this time around?” says Norzizi, who has 15 years of theatre experience. Her previous works include Medea, Throne Of Thorns and Usikan Rebab, which won her the Best Director award at the 2013 Boh Cameronian Awards.
Norzizi also lectures at the faculty of film, theatre and animation in UiTM Shah Alam. She also recently got her Phd in theatre performance from University of Wollongong in Australia.
For Norzizi, who is the eldest child of veteran actors Zulkifli Zain and Normala Omar, adapting Shakespeare’s play into a Mak Yong piece was not an easy task. She had to find ways to merge both genres – in a believable manner.
“This is because Mak Yong has a clearly defined format and character roles, such as the Pak Yong and the Mak Yong,” she explains.
Interpreting characters to fit these roles, therefore, is often very tricky.
For example, the Mak Yong always has a pair of actors playing servants – the old Peran and the young Peran. As a result, Shakespeare’s trickster character Puck had to be split into two characters.
Norzizi’s intention of staging the two-hour play, she adds, is not to change the Mak Yong. Indeed, she regards Mak Yong as a very beautiful traditional art form, but it still needs exposure and a new generation on board to keep it alive.
“The music of Mak Yong itself, the instruments they use, the singing style ... they just tug at your emotions. Every time I hear it, I will be attracted to go watch it,” says Norzizi.
“It’s very hard to find Mak Yong nowadays. And if people want to understand it, Titis Sakti is the best way to do it. You get a lovely comedy and it is very easy to understand with the (accompanying) visuals.”
The bubbly director also wants Titis Sakti to be the first in a trilogy for her.
“I would love to explore two other plays. I have The Comedy Of Errors in mind. The other, I’m not too sure, is Macbeth. It might be hard to adapt, sebab Mak Yong tiada tragedi (there are no tragedies in Mak Yong). But who knows?” she concludes with a laugh.