“Casting shadows on what we take for granted”

Reviewer: Meera Nair
Performance: 15 January 2016

Hikayat Sang Kancil isn’t about a smart Kancil outwitting stupid animals. It’s a story of pain and loss, loneliness and power.

The Chronicles of One and Zero: Kancil leaves us with more questions than answers, as it brings the story of the Kancil into the real world. A world where history is written by the powerful (“Those with knowledge and resources determine the outcome, even if they lose”), showcased through the juxtaposition of destruction with the whitewashed tales we know of today.

See, in this version of the Kancil’s story, the Kancil bears the burden of knowledge. She is powerless and alone in knowing that deforestation is slowly encroaching upon the forest territory. She is painfully lonely: her exploits in the forest have left behind a trail of deception. Her actions then were morally ambiguous and have consequences now. The Buaya, Monyet, Gajah and other animals plan a birthday party for her despite all she has done, but she ventures off by herself instead, knowing she is smarter than all of them.The Siput still harbours a strong grudge against her.

The journey through this production is intense. An incongruous combination of traditional theatre and computer-generated graphics set to a backdrop of haunting electronic sounds. This odd mix creates a sense of displacement that is both uncomfortable and disturbing. The treatment of the Kancil’s story, which fluctuates between seriousness and flippancy, shocks and disrupts. Just imagine – your senses assaulted with flashing lights and loud sounds as a screaming Kancil discovers that everything is lost. And then, that story cheerfully recounted to the tune of Injit Injit Semut, set to visuals of an 8-bit video game.

The production feels to me like an experiment in forms. This is the first time Safuan Johari and Brandon Tay, who design the sound and visuals respectively, are doing theatre. The inexperience shows, as the visuals and sound don’t feel like theatre or theatre-appropriate. In fact, the light-hearted chatter between the animals in the beginning has me wondering how this can possibly work. But then, the rug gets pulled out from under my feet and the story takes a darker turn. At this point, I realise how effectively the combination immerses the audience in the storytelling.

Gloria Tan, the sole performer, pushes herself from role to role, seamlessly and energetically transitioning from Buaya to Monyet to Kancil. Helped by the visuals, she holds dialogues with the other animals. Her performance is commanding and emotional, and the stage feels full despite there being just one actor.

Watching children’s stories get transformed this way leaves me wondering: what do we actually know, and what do we not know? What are we taking at surface value? Who writes the stories we read, regardless of whether it’s children’s tales or newspaper articles? What is left out? The production definitely leaves an impression. Eavesdropping on the conversations around me as I exit the theatre, I realise that I am not the only person asking these questions.


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13 – 16 January 2016
Esplanade Theatre Studio


Meera Nair enjoys works that are experimental or cross-genre. She blogs on the arts and food at