While many are familiar with the classic tale of Hang Tuah, a character synonymous with loyalty and obedience to the King, The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat’s modern reimagination of Jebat offers a rare chance to explore the story from Hang Jebat’s point of view.
Theatre show Jebat, which is presented in English, has been giving the masses plenty food for thought at KLPac since it opened on Sept 16. It will be playing until this Sunday.
Produced and directed by The Actors Studio's Datuk Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham respectively, the re-telling of this beloved Malay classic threads through a plot highlighting loyalty, friendship and betrayal.
The epic performance, featuring a script by U-En Ng, also includes a daring set of a post-apocalyptic Malaysia. The contemporary-looking production features a total of almost 40 performers on stage, along with LED screens and a heart-pounding soundtrack that help enhance the theatre experience at KLPac's Pentas 1 hall.
The last major theatre show of such a scale was an adaptation of the Japanese classic Rashomon, which played at KLPac in early March 2020, just a few days before the nation went into lockdown due to the pandemic.
It is good to see KLPac forging forward with such an ambitious production such as Jebat, especially with The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat team reacquainting itself with the big stage test.
A story that connects
Despite the challenges of translating traditional Malay stories into English, playwright Ng manages to find the balance in Jebat, and more importantly, he captures the plight of Hang Tuah’s loyalty to his king as opposed to Jebat’s desire for freedom, honour and respect.
This, coupled with elements of silat and traditional music, makes the story accessible to audiences unfamiliar with the story, while giving a fresh perspective to others.
The dynamic and diverse mix of cast also highlights the potential of Malaysian actors in theatre, considering the importance and intensity of characters such as Jebat, who is portrayed by Zul Zamir (nominated as one the best leading actors in the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards 2023 for his 10-role performance in Hujan Pagi).
In Jebat, Zul is joined by Yusuf Amin as Hang Tuah, Swarna Naidu as Dayang (Jebat’s beloved wife), Davina Goh as Tun Teja (The Queen), Sidhart Joe Dev as Sultan Mahmud Shah (The King), Ian Skatu as Bendahara, Anwar Rusdini as Patih Kerma Wijaya, Nabil Zakaria as Hang Kasturi, Faez Malek as Hang Lekir and Nick Augustin as Hang Lekiu.
“While there has been much focus on Hang Tuah, this will be the first major English language production focusing on Jebat, exploring what possibly went on in his head and why he did what he did. Though many termed it as betrayal, what if there was a different point of view?” said Joe Hasham, a theatre veteran unafraid to push boundaries.
Jebat also features live music composed specifically for this theatre production, and the soundtrack - an important part of this play - captures the mood and intensity of the silat and mixed martial arts battle scenes.
“You will see traditional elements including use of the keris and silat that is tied to the original story, but we hope the staging will attract new audiences,” added the director.
The recent premiere of this theatre play also marked the establishment of The Actors Studio Foundation, which aims to nurture and advance the performing arts in Malaysia.
Jebat is also supported by ArtsFAS (Arts For All Season), an annual arts and culture programme by Yayasan Hasanah in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, Malaysia.
Jebat is showing at Pentas 1, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Kuala Lumpur until Sept 23. More info here.