In KL Shakespeare Players’ (KLSP) upcoming production Hujan Pagi, actor Zul Zamir has a considerable challenge ahead as he needs to shift seamlessly between 10 different characters.
Hujan Pagi, a solo performance, premiered last year at the Ignite Solo Performance Festival in Kuala Lumpur and also toured George Town, Penang.
For his performance, Zul was nominated as one the best leading actors in the recent Boh Cameronian Arts Awards 2023.
This week, he has a chance to reintroduce this Hujan Pagi production to the Klang Valley masses.
It will be staged at the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPAC) at the 1 Utama Shopping Centre in Selangor from May 19-21, with some tweaks from its earlier version. There will be additional scenes that bring the play to just over an hour in duration, compared to the shorter version in 2022 (under 45 minutes).
This play is based on National Laureate Datuk Seri A. Samad Said’s Hujan Pagi novel (released in 1987) and is performed entirely in the original Bahasa Malaysia text, with surtitles in English.
It tells the tale of two brothers, Lokman and Lajis; the former a pre-war journalist who dreams – quite literally – about heading a fearless newspaper that stands by the people and fights the British colonisers, and the latter who uncovers a string of mysteries that result in him questioning his own identity.
This stage adaptation of the novel will focus on Lokman’s hallucinations and mental struggle, and Lajis’ attempt to get to the bottom of this condition.
For Zul, he was drawn to the themes of leadership and identity, particularly in cases where the views offered contradict what he had always assumed to be true.
“For example, the book asks us to re-examine what truly constitutes a freedom/independence fighter and the true intention of the rebellions that has happened throughout our pre-independence history. I think that a good work of fiction should begin with a compelling story, but also challenge the reader to observe and reflect real life. In this regard, Hujan Pagi has done both for me,” says Zul, the resident actor and stage/production manager for a majority of KL Shakespeare Players’ productions.
The actor, who plays both Lokman and Lajis – alongside a host of other characters – says that making his lines feel and sound as natural and alive as possible on stage was a big challenge.
“In playing 10 characters, I needed to make all of them distinct enough so that the audience would be able to follow the story.
"I started off with some ideas and Kien Lee helped to shape the various characters. I could have never done it without direction from him. We did a lot of character studies and physical exercises,” says Zul.
Straight from the source
“I love stories that are mysterious and grotesque. I am also drawn to topics such as integrity in journalism, the use and abuse of power, racial and national identity. These are what stood out for me when I read the novel. I am not familiar with Bahasa Malaysia literature. I only know of a handful of Malay poets and novelists,” says KLSP's Lim Kien Lee, who directs the play.
“A. Samad Said immediately came to mind for two reasons: he was the icon for fighting for a clean government, and he knew my partner, KLSP’s co-founder Lim Soon Heng. In fact, Pak Samad came to see a number of our shows. Zul and I went through the synopsis of a number of his works, and we were both drawn to Hujan Pagi,” he adds.
Hujan Pagi, which is presented by Good News ArtSpace, uses text solely from the source material.
“Every scene was a challenge, because we had to bring the text in a novel, written to be read, into life on stage. Scenes where a character talks about very interesting or powerful ideas, but with very little action, were really tricky. If staged as naturally written in the novel, there would be mostly just talking heads.
“So we had to find different ways of mise en scene, to provide interesting visual elements which do not drown out, but bring forth the spirit of the text. However, the scenes of surrealism – such as the dream sequence – were easier and fun to work on,” says Lim.
The play also includes multimedia projections, music, lighting effects and even silat (Malay martial art) moves.
Hujan Pagi is on at Nero Event Space, PJPac in 1Utama, Selangor on May 19 and 20 (9pm), and May 21 (5.30pm). More info here.