A pauper and a prince swap places in KLPac's bangsawan theatre show

A quick poll among your friends today would reveal that many have never heard of bangsawan theatre (Malay opera), let alone seen it.

Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja, which premieres this week at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), plans to change that.

Dr Marlenny Deenerwan, or fondly known as Lenny Erwan, a bangsawan proponent, directs this 90-minute production, which will run from Dec 17-19 at KLPac's Pentas 1. The stage show will be presented in Bahasa Malaysia with English surtitles.

“This performance comes after almost two years without doing any shows due to the pandemic,” says Lenny Erwan, who also wrote the show's script.

“This is also a tribute to our Adiguru Seniman Negara Rahman Bakar who had dedicated his life to training the young generation of bangsawan, so this is the time to give back to him,” she adds, referring to the bangsawan legend who trained her 23 years ago.

The cast of 'Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja' show. Photo: Achu ZulThe cast of 'Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja' show. Photo: Achu Zul

Throughout local history, bangsawan troupes travelled from village to village, entertaining people. It was, arguably, one of the earliest theatre forms in the country, introduced by Indian sea traders in the late 19th century. As its name suggests, bangsawan theatre recounts stories of lords and aristocrats.

Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja tells the tale of two young men, Amir Hamzah, a wealthy prince, and Kadir Jabun, a poor boy. The duo accidentally exchange identities and get into all sorts of trouble, including a prison sentence and a wrongful coronation.

Interestingly, Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja is based on legendary Malaysian writer/linguist Za'aba's 1958 translation of American author Mark Twain's The Prince And The Pauper, called Anak Raja Dengan Anak Papa.

In these post-pandemic times, this production looked a major undertaking, involving a team of 60, including a 26-strong creative and production crew.

'It's a classic story with some contemporary feel and innovation but still respecting the core values of bangsawan theatre,' says Lenny Erwan. Photo: Achu Zul'It's a classic story with some contemporary feel and innovation but still respecting the core values of bangsawan theatre,' says Lenny Erwan. Photo: Achu Zul

The stage show features Faez Malek, Mior Ahmad, Dekna Sheikh Faisal, Eijat Ashari, Noor Jannah, Zafran Hisham, Syafiq Ahmad, Griffin Robert, Sam Aziz, Jai Ijol, Atiqah Abu Bakar, Azwan Ahmadi, Iqtiman Azmi, Ash and Nan Rozlan. Six dancers, five musicians and a singer join them.

Lenny Erwan says the audience can expect a classic story with a modern spin in Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja, while still honouring the bangsawan theatre's core values.

“The backdrop or curtain (tirai) is one of the most important aspects of bangsawan, which is also known as curtain drama (drama tirai).

“We plan to revive a classic method for putting up the backdrops used by travelling troupes but with a contemporary touch which will also influence the set change and extra-turn, another key characteristic of bangsawan,” explains Lenny Erwan, who has written 10 and directed five bangsawan plays.

Hikayat Si Miskin Menjadi Raja is presented by Lenny’ Erwan’s Bangasawan troupe Mekar Budaya in collaboration with The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat as part of Yayasan Hasanah’s Arts For All Seasons 2021.

More info here.

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