Reviewer: Myle Yan Tay
Performance: 20 December 2017
Almost immediately, Angkat dives into the action. Salmah (played by Sahirrah Safit), a National Idol (a Singapore Idol analogue) hopeful, is grilled by three agents on her race and her identity. Surrounded by a set comprising wooden and cardboard boxes, they plan their media strategy to turn her into the next singing sensation, vacillating between their conceptions of the modern and conservative Muslim woman. It is a promising start to the 90-minute play, providing ample material for the play to explore.
Yet, therein lies Angkat’s major problem: everything is foreshadowed so heavily that it becomes a matter of “when”, not “if”. The agents warn her that they are going to push Salmah to her limits, which is precisely what they do. Their gradual decline into exploitation and stereotyping never surprises. And, for Salmah, the agents are so blatantly manipulative, that her eventual return to the fold becomes an obvious, unemotional choice.
Though the singing competition takes up half of the play, the real heart of the script is Salmah’s relationship with her adoptive mother Khadija, played by Norsiah Ramly. Though it takes a while for their chemistry to warm-up, their final scene feels deeply cathartic. The initial stumbling is possibly due to the way they are presented from start to finish, the two are fighting; we never see the two at peace until the very end of the production. The lack of intimacy makes it difficult to connect with the pair, though it does eventually happen.
The three actors who play the agents also play three orphans at Khadija’s workplace. These scenes are heartfelt, tackling honest issues of race and conformity in Singapore. It is in moments like this when the play finds itself, opening itself up to honest reflection. Highlights include Erwin Shah Ismail, who plays an agent, railing against the burdens of being born into his race, or when Khadija opens up about her failings as a mother.
At its core, Angkat is an emotional and sincere piece. The actors are engaging, the lighting provides different textures to the various scenes, and its minimalist set is evocative and imaginative. But at times, it feels rough around the edges, with certain scenes lacking energy and other characters appearing flat (especially the scenes between Salmah and the three agents). If closer attention is paid to the agents and to strengthening Salmah’s journey, Angkat can become a more evocative piece of theatre, better equipped to handle identity in Singapore.
This reviewer feels obliged to note that during this production, the management of the subtitles was under par. Certain lines were completely missed while others skipped back and forth. Though the non-Malay speaking audience member can manage with the cues from the actors, this hinders this reviewer’s overall enjoyment of the piece.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
ANGKAT by Teater Ekamatra
20 – 24 December 2017
Malay Heritage Centre Auditorium
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yan is currently studying in Yale-NUS College, where he enjoys spending his free time in far too many productions. Having tried acting, writing, and directing for the stage, Yan looks forward to reviewing. He believes that theatre should challenge both the audience and creators.