Revisiting Francis Light and son's roles in British colonial history

  • Arts
  • Thursday, 22 Aug 2019

Light', performed at this year’s George Town Festival, will be staged as a creative development show at KLPac, starting Aug 23. The full show will be performed at the OzAsia Fest in Adelaide in October. Photo: George Town Festival

The renowned French poet and novelist Victor Hugo famously once said: “What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.”

That seems to reflect the vision of theatre company TerryandTheCuz’s latest work called Light which opens on Aug 23 at Indicine, KLPac.

“Light is based on the idea that our present was written in the past. How we remember history decides who we believe ourselves to be," explains Terence Conrad, co-founder of TerryandTheCuz, in an interview.

“Our history has not been recorded but instead written for us by people with self-serving interest to perpetuate myths and legitimise colonisation,” he adds.

At KLPac, Light will be presented in an experimental space as a creative development show.

Light, written by Conrad, Govin Ruben (aka The Cuz) and Australian writer/director Thomas Henning, features Junji Delfino, Gavin Yap and Arief Hamizan.

Henning also helms the project as the director while Govin designed the set and lights.

A staged reading of Light was recently presented at the recent George Town Festival (GTF) in Penang.

Conrad says the KL dates will be the culmination of the show’s fine-tuning run before its taken to Adelaide, Australia for the OzAsia Fest in October and possibly to Britain next year.

Light aims to push the envelope with a historical reappraisal of Briton Francis Light’s story.

He was the man who put Penang on the map during the colonial era, securing the island as British property. The show extends its narrative to his family - namely, his 'wife' and son.

Light questions the way in which our collective past is remembered, and how it perpetuates systemic prejudice today. It explores history as myth and propaganda and surveys the bias of cultural memory,” says Conrad, 38.

Light deals with the colonisation of Penang by Francis Light, the founding of Adelaide by his son William, the rise of the British Empire, and how, in the midst of all this, Martina Rozells (William’s mother) was removed from history.

The show looks like a near-impossible task of 98 years of semi-remembered or rewritten history that spans across four continents.

The project began four years ago when then GTF festival director Joe Sidek queried Conrad about Martina Rozells and her relationship with Francis Light.

Intrigued, Conrad looked her up and discovered that she was Light’s wife/consort/partner (depending on whom he talked to) and that she had been almost erased from history by the British East India Company.

“That led us to a conversation with Joe Mitchell, the festival director of OzAsia Festival in Adelaide, who wanted us to create a show on the founding of Adelaide by William and his father Francis’ role in colonising Penang. We then got down to working with Henning, a frequent collaborator of ours from Australia.

“We started going through as much history as we could find in Penang, Adelaide and KL. Then began the contentious part – talking to historians – all of whom had differing views on who Martina Rozells was, Francis Light’s theft of Penang and if William Light was even the real founder of Adelaide,” recalls Conrad.

“Much of what’s written about them is romanticised to legitimise wrongdoings or further a propaganda,” he concludes, referring to the challenges in revisiting this corner of British empire-building history.

Light (Creative Development Showing) is on at Indicine, KLPac, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 23-26 and Aug 28 and 29. Showtimes: 8.30pm. Tickets: RM45. More info: Call: 03-4047 9000.

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