New theatre show 'Asal' shines spotlight on issues of mental health


Newcomer actor Aila plays the protagonist in 'Asal', a theatre show at PJPAC this weekend which addresses mental health issues. Photo: Handout

Bob Ammirul struggled with depression in the past and he spent much of that time suffering in silence.

“I could not even gather my thoughts properly, even to a point where I was too scared to speak to anyone about it because I strongly believed that no one would care,” reveals Bob, 29, an emerging Shah Alam-based theatre practitioner.

He eventually learned a valuable lesson - reach out to your loved ones.

This is something that Azra, the protagonist in Asal: A Staging Of Mental Health Stigmas, had to learn the hard way.

The 80-minute play, written and directed by Bob, will open at Nero Event Space, Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPAC) on Aug 27.

Presented by theatre outfit Fivekosongtujo Production, Asal features Aila, Asraf Zulk, Saif Imran, Shukri Tahir, Najwa Mutalib, Kween Keela and Nik Waheeda.

Bob Ammirul (left, seated on chair) says writing and directing 'Asal' allowed him to understand his own battle with depression. Photo: HandoutBob Ammirul (left, seated on chair) says writing and directing 'Asal' allowed him to understand his own battle with depression. Photo: Handout

Bob's play, which will be presented in Bahasa Malaysia and English, was first staged in March this year at Asterik Anak Seni Studio in Kelana Jaya with a different cast.

No walk in the park

In writing Asal, Bob reveals that he had to challenge himself to revisit his own traumas and experiences to create the show's script.

He explains that it was through this excavation that he realised acceptance is the key to healing and recovery.

“Making peace with things that broke you is not an easy thing, but with the right support system, with the right medium and intention, you will take the first step in healing and in time, you will enjoy the process of knowing the real you, the you that had gone through all the pain and suffering which made you who you are today,” says Bob.

Asal focuses on Azra (Aila), a 24-year-old woman who suffers from major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. The fact that everyone around her describes her as insane is not helpful.

Theatre show 'Asal' focuses on a young woman who suffers from major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Photo: HandoutTheatre show 'Asal' focuses on a young woman who suffers from major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Photo: Handout

One day, she is hospitalised and something untoward transpires, resulting in a legal proceeding. She is admitted to the psychiatric ward in order to determine her mental state. In court, can she invoke the defence of insanity and self-defence?

“The question we want to raise is, if two people got into a fight, and one of them has a mental issue, whose story are you going to believe?” asks Bob.

The director adds it was important for him to address such a sensitive subject not only because of his own battle with depression, but also because he believes that conversations about mental health are not something Malaysians are eager to discuss in public.

“It has been that way for so long. We need to deliver the message that this is not something that we can sit on anymore. Something needs to be done. We decided that this is a good medium (theatre) to deliver the message that we are not alone. Speak up. Reach out,” says Bob.

He consulted two of his friends who are psychologists, in addition to conducting online research and speaking with friends and family, to ensure that he and his team have the right information about mental health.

Bob notes a booth will be available at PJPAC during show dates for audiences to find out more about mental health challenges.

There are also plans later this year to tour Asal to universities around the country.

Asal will play at Nero Event Space, PJPac on Aug 27 and 28. More info here.

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