A talented ensemble comes together for The Instant Cafe Theatre Company’s new production.
To theatre actress, director and writer Jo Kukathas, we are all travellers, constantly moving around a world that’s in flux. Like the migratory patterns of birds and animals, the desire to move is as old as time.
“We are constantly travelling. Sometimes we may be suspended in space, but it is only momentarily,” Kukathas said during a recent interview. “We are only momentarily in this particular piece of Earth called Malaysia. And we will move, again and again.”
“On a deeper level I feel sometimes we get into so much trouble here because everybody wants to say: ‘No, this is ours. We are here now, always and forever. We have always been here, and we will continue to always be here.’ But the truth is, humanity is a moving force, moving across the planet constantly.”
It is perhaps no wonder, then, that Kukathas’s latest play, Raj And The End Of Tragedy, is the story of a journey, of two dreamers in search of something.
The play tells the story of Raj, a dreamer with ambitions of going to America, who is locked up in a mental hospital by his family. Upon his release, he learns to his joy that Uncle L, a constant traveller, is looking for a sidekick to travel with him to New York.
Despite the misgivings of Uncle L and his wife, the two embark on a fateful journey together. Neither Raj nor Uncle L understands the urges that consume them, but along the way, they become part of the restless tide of life on the planet. And tragedy follows as it inevitably does, as a reminder that at the end of the failures and successes of today’s headlines are the silent tragedies that make us human.
“It’s a very deeply human play. You’re always on the edge of laughter and tears. It’s funny and it’s painful, just as life is,” said director Natalie Hennedige.
“It’s a piece about being thankful. It’s about surviving in a difficult, funny world. It’s a story that’s deeply Malaysian, and also very universal. It is a piece that grows from the personal to the world, the contemporary world with all its complexities.”
Raj And The End Of Tragedy is presented by The Instant Cafe Theatre Company (ICT) in association with CAKE Theatrical Productions, and features performances by Kukathas, Anne James, Ghafir Akbar, Doppo Narita and Suhaili Micheline. The production is also being held in conjunction with ICT’S 25th anniversary.
According to Kukathas, Raj And The End Of Tragedy was developed from Going To The Dogs, a story she wrote as part of the production Almost True Stories, which she did with Ghafir last year.
“When I did it last year, I just did it as myself telling the story,” Kukathas said. “But we really wanted to explore new ways of storytelling.”
“We started to explore what is the language of storytelling in Malaysia, especially (from) the point of view of a single storyteller,” said Ghafir, who plays the mercurial Uncle L, among other roles. “But what we found was that there were also a lot of other languages that we could also use, which will be very apparent in this play.
“With Natalie’s direction, there’s this language of what Jo has written. There’s our physical language, there’s the language of the set, how it’s created and perceived. There’s the language of the music and the projections. Together, it will feel very full, much like a normal play. That’s the angle we’re exploring, and I think it’s kind of new and exciting, not just for us, but for the Malaysian audience as well.”
The play is told in a rather unconventional manner, with much of the story’s verbal elements performed by Kukathas. Hennedige affirmed, however, that all performers were integral parts of the storytelling.
“I see it as everyone speaking. You hear one voice, but everyone is on an equal playing field. Each actor is front and centre, and each becomes an important element of the show,” she said.
“The show is much more than just a spoken text. It’s a visual experience, you listen and you see. That’s why in casting, I was determined to find people who had very different energies, and were each capable of holding their own.”
While each cast member has a “main role”, they also take on other roles throughout the play, including different facets of a character’s personality. Suhaili, for instance, plays Auntie L, animals, and insects, among other things!
“We also play simple characters, or people to create the background and atmosphere of certain scenes,” Suhaili said. “I even play an iconic landmark at one point! It’s very challenging, especially since it’s my first time actually working with Instant Café Theatre. But it’s very interesting, and I’ve learnt a lot from every session.”
For Doppo, on the other hand, the greatest challenge of being in the play was the physical nature of some scenes. The Japanese actor mostly plays Uncle Sim, a character he described as a “sad man, abandoned by his family”.
“For me, I need to listen to the complicated story and script, and react with my body. Usually in a straight play, I don’t show my body movement so much. But here, we need to so the audience can know what’s going on,” Doppo said. “So I have to find the right movements, and that is a very big challenge for me.”
Asked what he hoped people would take back from Raj And The End Of Tragedy, Doppo said he hoped it would open discussion.
“All families have their own problems. They all have their dark and light sides. I hope when audiences watch this, they can feel something strong, and be inspired to share it with their families too,” he said.
Raj And The End Of Tragedy will be staged at Pentas 2, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan (off Jalan Ipoh) in Kuala Lumpur from Nov 27-30. Doors open 8.30pm every night with additional shows at 3pm on Nov 29-30. Ticket prices are RM58 (adults) and RM38 (students) for night shows and RM48 (adults) and RM38 (students) for matinees. The Nov 30 night show is a fundraiser with tickets priced at RM200 and RM500. For more info, visit www.klpac.org or call 03 4047 9000.