It is a big birthday bash and everyone is ready to party like never before. The Chongs really know how to throw a party and everyone is here to celebrate. But in the middle of the festivities, an opulent diamond goes missing.
There is a deafening screech of disbelief and then, everything comes to a halt. No one can leave the premises, says the police officers who have arrived at the crime scene – not until we solve this mystery of the missing diamond.
In Melaka, theatre outfit Krate’s newest production is a crime thriller fest, a classic whodunit, all dressed up in Peranakan finery.
Evenings At The Baba Nyonya Museum, The Case Of The Missing Diamond is an original theatre production, written and directed by Wee Shyre May, and presented in collaboration with Baba And Nyonya Heritage Museum and Persatuan Peranakan Baba Nyonya Malaysia.
It will be showing at the Baba And Nyonya Heritage Museum in Melaka from March 25 to April 2.
The main aim is to give locals and visitors to the historic state a look at how the performing arts can be developed from a community level, with a new generation of theatremakers, musicians and venue owners in Melaka coming together.
Baba And Nyonya Heritage Museum was once a grand home featuring a combination of three terrace lots that were acquired by the Chan family in 1861. Four generations lived in the house before it was opened as a museum in March 1985.
Evenings At The Baba Nyonya Museum, The Case Of The Missing Diamond is also a prequel of Krate’s previous show, an interactive musical called The Best Nyonya, which was shown at the Riuh carnival in Melaka and KL last year, which revolves around the wealthy and judgmental Madam Chong’s search for a suitable bride for her son, and a young lady who has three days to prepare to wow her.
The Case Of The Missing Diamond, which will give theatre lovers a taste of old world ambience at the Baba And Nyonya Heritage Museum, is set almost two decades earlier, circa 1960-1970s. It gives us a glimpse into Madam Chong’s origins and how she overcomes the conflicts within her family.
This is Melaka’s first walk-through immersive theatre experience, where the audience will get to walk through different parts of the museum on the ground floor, as the story unfolds.
“Audiences are expected to respond to questions, volunteer, interview and even role-play. Some characters are given to the audiences with instructions for them to help solve the crime," says Wee, founder of Krate, an independent contemporary theatre company, established in 2016, in Melaka.
"They will need to pay attention to details in order to get a clue, with the help of the officers. Many of the furniture and settings will act as ‘stage props’ but we have also prepared our own as there are many valuable antiques and artefacts in the museum. We encourage audiences to come wearing kebaya and batik to elevate the mood too!” she adds.
With The Case Of The Missing Diamonds, Wee aims to break the fourth wall so the audience can get up close and personal with the characters in the show, and share in their joy and sorrows.
Everyone in the audience will be given a hand fan that represents their presence and their absence; when the fan is up, the actors are unable to “see” them, thus acting differently than if the fan is down, which indicates that the member of the audience is visible to the actors.
“There are parts of the play that are not scripted, so it will be pretty interesting to see how actors adapt to certain scenes. It would definitely be challenging, but of course very fun! As lots of improvisation is needed, actors will have to be on their toes to stay in character. Audiences responsiveness will definitely affect the overall show experience but we are committed to make sure that we stay consistent with the quality and flow of the whole performance,” explains Wee.
A different stage
As someone who loves exploring unconventional spaces, as well as incorporating different methods for storytelling, staging a production in a museum is a unique experience for her.
“The stage is already set, so it is my job to figure out who or what I would like to place in there so that the story can flow. The great news is that every part of the museum is absolutely gorgeous, it has meaning, it has history and it has character. I just have to focus on the story and my characters,” she says.
Wee wrote this play with the intention to show audiences what could happen behind the scenes in a Peranakan household, with the bigger goal of sharing the beauty of Melaka's Peranakan heritage.
“Other than the physical beauty such as their traditional outfit and the overall interior and architecture, Peranakans believe in certain customs, such as how young nyonyas should behave and what is expected of them, and how the matriarch of the family, the eldest, is in charge of all the monetary decisions around the house.
"Peranakans also take pride in the variety of delicious cuisines made from scratch. This show really challenges that norm and what people say about Peranakans. It is thought provoking and raw,” she says.
As Krate brings its audience back in time with The Case Of The Missing Diamond, Wee hopes to ignite inspiration and curiosity towards our cultures, especially if they are Peranakan.
“We hope to create a sense of awe, deeper understanding, and even empathy towards certain characters and their situation. Overall, I hope the audience will have an amazing time with us and appreciate art, theatre and culture like how we appreciate our food,” she concludes.
‘Evenings At The Baba Nyonya Museum, The Case Of The Missing Diamond’ is on at the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock in Melaka, from March 25 to April 2 (5pm, 8pm and 8.30pm, check on daily timings). Limited tickets left. More info here.