Here comes the evil monkey! Shadow theatre celebrates Temuan folk tale

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 10 Mar 2018

'The actors in 'Hoong Siamang Hooong' will be performing and interacting with the audience,' says Ang, the show producer. Photos: Hongjiejie Work Station

Hoong! Hoong! Hoong! It is a most fearful sound, booming like thunder, deep in the forest.

It's what you'll hear in the story of Hoong Siamang Hooong, which is based on a Temuan legend.  There is also a song, an ancient tune, only known to the Temuan people (an indigenous group in Peninsular Malaysia), that can still your fears and send the monstrous ape away. Or so goes the tale.

It captivated Linda Ang, a producer/deejay, so much when she first heard it two years ago from Kenneth See, a children’s book artist, that she knew it had to be staged as a children’s play.

In fact, See’s upcoming book is based on this Temuan folk tale.

“I contacted our director, told him about the story and he said yes,” shares Ang, the producer of Hoong Siamang Hooong, a shadow theatre show.

Director Chang says Hoong Siamang Hooong has a live picture book feel.

Hoong Siamang Hooong, directed by Malaysian-born Taiwan-based Chang Wei Loy and produced by Hongjiejie Work Station, is currently playing at The Play Haus, Pearl Shopping Gallery in Kuala Lumpur till March 18.

Joining Chang as co-directors and creators of the show are Amelia Tan and Liang Ka En.

New Era University College theatre graduates Ng Yuan Ci and Liang and full-time drummer Low Wai Kei will lend their talents as the cast.

The story of Hoong Siamang Hooong follows a brave and spirited couple who venture deep into the forest in search of fruits. But their journey takes a turn for the worse when a gigantic Siamang (a deep black furry gibbon) follows them.

The show will feature a smattering of Temuan and Malay languages in certain scenes.

The husband and wife, terrified by the impending danger, muster enough courage and try to outsmart and defeat the Guardian of the Mountain. The mission, obviously, is to get home safely and to bring back the bounty of fruits.

Chang is no stranger to staging plays based on indigenous folk tales. His directorial work Into The Flood (2009), under Taiwan’s Sun Son Theatre, was based on a flood tale by Taiwan’s Bunun tribe (a Taiwanese aboriginal tribe).

“When I read about the Bunun tribe story, I found out they treated floods as an inevitability, not a form of punishment.”

Into The Flood, a folk tale musical, played at DPac in 2013.

As a student in Taiwan, Chang befriended a community of Taiwanese aboriginal people. He recalls how their music, traditions, ceremonies and legends fascinated him. It was an eye-opener. However, he soon realised that his knowledge of Malaysia’s orang asal was poor and he decided it was time to change this situation. He made a concerted effort to learn more.

Ang says children's theatre has its share of difficulties. But the trick is to make sure the children are captivated by the show's story from start to end.

“They have been in this country for the longest time. Most importantly, they know how to live in harmony with the environment,” says Chang.

“Also, they lead simple, sustainable lives compared to the city folks. They have a rich culture and they are also attuned to the spiritual world,” he adds.

For Chang, these themes of respect for nature and community living are what he wants to highlight in Hoong Siamang Hooong.

The idea to stage this as a shadow theatre, according to Chang, is to present the story as a “live picture book”. The shadow puppets were made by Chang and his entire creative team, including the actors.

Unlike conventional shadow theatre, where the players perform behind the screen, the actors will be performing right in front of the audience. They will be employing the aid of an overhead projector, accompanied by live music.

There is also another reason for this arrangement, says Ang, a storyteller.

“Since this is children’s theatre, you need to improvise a little and retain the attention of your audience, who are kids. The actors will be performing and interacting with them.

“This will keep them entertained. It is not necessarily a bad thing because children normally give a very good honest response, which the actors will appreciate,” explains Ang, who founded Hongjiejie Work Station in 1999.

Under the moniker Hongjiejie, Ang and her company have been entertaining and educating children around the country using stories and tales collected from various parts of the world.

Hoong Siamang Hooong is on at The Play Haus, Pearl Shopping Gallery, Jalan Klang Lama in KL on March 10-11 and March 16-18. Showtimes: March 10 (11am, 4pm and 8pm), March 11 (11am and 4pm), March 16 (8pm), March 17 (11am, 4pm and 8pm) and March 18 (11am and 4pm). Tickets are RM55. Contact 012-2345 449. FB: Hongjiejie Work Station.

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