It's a shocking sight: a dead body, wrapped in cloth, lying on the floor.
No cause for alarm, though. This is not a murder scene, and the body isn’t real. It’s an eye-catching prop from a rehearsal of Malaya Relived: The Fall of Singapore.
This new local musical, which opens at the GMBB theatre space in Kuala Lumpur on March 22, is a tale of betrayal, refuge and identity, set during the early WWII days of the fall of British Malaya to the Japanese.
Young director Shafeeq Shajahan says the musical aims to nudge Malaysian history into the spotlight.
He was inspired to create it after a recent visit to a Japanese WWII-era exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.
“I wanted to push our rich history, which people don’t really talk about, to the forefront. Malaya Relived wants to unravel the tenuous foundations that we think our identity is built upon. What does it mean to be Malaysian? I think a lot of people have been asking themselves that since GE14,” says Shafeeq, 26, who is also the musical’s composer, lyricist, and emcee.
“I think the best way to answer that question, politically and socially, is to look to the past.”
Malaya Relived: The Fall Of Singapore features music and arrangement by Ian Nathaniel. It is presented by British-Malaysian production house Liver And Lung (winner of the 2017’s Boh Cameronian Arts Award for Innovation in Musical Theatre) in partnership with KL’s new creative hub GMBB.
The three-act musical is the story of Zubir (Zickry Yusoff) and Zubaida (Putrina Rafie), two siblings of Bugis ancestry living in Singapore.
The two have to deal with the recent death of their father, which Zubir blames on Zubaida’s courtship of a British soldier. Zubaida, on the other hand, believes there are sinister forces at play. Meanwhile, a darker force lurks in the background: an upcoming Japanese invasion.
All in all, a tale of black magic (that explains the body!) , betrayal and the British occupation is on the cards.
“What the musical seeks to do is not talk about the social and historical aspects of these events. It’s more about how events affect these two main characters. We’re more interested in their human journey,” says Shafeeq.
In playing their characters, both cast members reveal it was easy to slip into their roles. Just like Zubaida and Zubir, Putrina and Zickry are an older and younger sibling respectively.
“At 15, Zubir is immature, trying to be the bigger man after the death of his father. I feel that with that loss, he is struggling to find someone to hold on to, and ends up making bad decisions,” says Zickry.
“Zubaida is an elder sister, but in Malay family, being an elder sister isn’t always the best. You’re deemed to have these responsibilities, but you can’t be the leader of the family because you’re not male. She’s constantly trying to grasp at her identity, trying to find who she is,” says Putrina.
Putrina feels deeply for her character, especially with the limitations put on women during that era.
“She wants to find herself in another world, because there’s this awful conception that women at that time were subservient. At the same time, though, she has to keep it all together. Because that’s what Asian women do!” says Putrina.
The musical is the latest in Liver And Lung’s “Relived” series, which consists several immersive theatre shows previously performed in Britain (including 2017’s Disco Relived).
True to its format, this Malaya Relived: The Fall Of Singapore show also promises to be an immersive experience. It is set in a performance space that has been transformed into an old kampung house.
The group has already planned the follow-up to this show: Malaya Relived: Merdeka, which will be performed from April 18-21. It will focus on an English journalist who travels to Malaya to write a story on an anti-colonialism activist.
Malaya Relived: The Fall Of Singapore is on at GMBB, 2 Jalan Robinson in KL from March 22-24. Showtimes are 8pm. Tickets are RM70 and RM60 (concession). Visit: www.liverandlung.com.