Theatre director Dhinesha Karthigesu is about to challenge stereotypes and spark intense conversation with his latest play They All Die At The End, which he wrote and directed, at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre this Thursday.
What sets this play apart is its singular focus on what it is to be an Indian male in Malaysia. As such, They All Die At The End consists of an all-male cast featuring Ian Skatu, Karthigesan, Sidhart Joe Dev, Nandagopall and Tin Raman.
“The choice of the title is that the show centres around the Malaysian Indian male; it’s an all-Indian male ensemble, I am an Indian male director, and I wanted a title that sort of reflects the violence of what it means to be an Indian Malaysian man,” said Dhinesha, who is also a poet, playwright and actor, during a recent interview.
For They All Die At The End, he is digging deep to share stories from a community he is familiar with.
Violence here as defined by Dhinesha is racism, abuse and “the system” itself. But that’s not all that the term encompasses. While the violence is delivered externally, the recipient(s)’ hidden emotions manifest themselves internally.
“The show is pretty much centered on the idea of family and how a lot of times this violence is external and then it becomes internalised. It’s the way we talk to ourselves, the way we process things and the way we don’t process things and emotions and that’s when it gets more universal.
“It’s the idea of how boys are not allowed to cry, the patriarchy is very strong and men are expected to behave a certain way and hold our emotions and not show it. And that’s when the violence becomes internal; it’s the way we are not allowed to feel,” said the 32-year-old Dhinesha, an alumni of Theatresauce’s Emerging Directors Lab and also part of the collective (Theatresauce).
The play They All Die At The End reflects this through a multi-faceted lens involving a variety of characters, instances and experiences.
“They (the actors) play multiple characters. The show is designed, almost as a series of different scenes and vignettes. Each scene is a different scenario, a different situation, a different possibility and so by the end of the show the actors would have played anywhere between seven to 10 different characters, different stories, different journeys ...”
The KL-born Dhinesha however, noted that there is a balance in the storytelling here in terms of tragedy and comedy.
“I think there are definite moments of light-heartedness, of levity, of comedy and all of those things. I think you get a variety of emotions whether it’s through poetic text, dialogue, music or movement or sometimes silence.
“As a director I’m very conscious of the journey my audience is going to go on. I don’t intend to bombard them from beginning to end to the point of being de-sensitised,” he added with a laugh.
Dhinesha also shared that in order to write such personal stories, he collaborated with the actors themselves.
“The writing process had been me casting these actors; we started work in January and we’ve been writing together. We’ve built these scenes in rehearsals, we write it down, we then transcribe the things we do, we refine and things like that. So the script is actually written by the entire cast and myself. It is a collaborative process that we’ve put on together.”
There was also a caveat put upon Dhinesha as Theatresauce pretty much insisted that in order to be part of its slate of productions for this year, his project had to be a collaborative one.
“When Theatresauce reached out to us sometime last year, I was part of the Emerging Directors Lab and the five of us – the batch that graduated – were all offered to pitch a show that we wanted to work on.
“And a huge part of the (2023) season involves the idea of collaboration.”
He had already started thinking last year about the opportunity of telling a Malaysian Indian story for the stage.
“I thought that it would be really nice to build an ensemble that was just made up of people from a singular race just because that would allow a very specific set of storytelling to be born.”
The gender specific line-up also offers the director an opportunity to move beyond issues of masculinity, and to challenge his young cast to be more brutally honest about certain issues and difficult feelings.
“I think it’s the more vulnerable side ... to be able to sit down with my actors and talk about body and sexuality and secrets, the disappointments, the fears and everything (that are important).
“I’ve found that having an all-male space allowed my actors and myself to be a lot more open about the things we were experiencing and struggling with – and hoping for – but never in a way that felt like we were trying to impress someone or feel like we had to censor themselves,” he concluded.
The show, presented in English with a smattering of Tamil, has a running time of two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
They All Die At The End will play at Pentas 2, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan in KL from May 25 to 28. More info here.