“A Lesson in History”
Reviewer: Muhammed Faizad Bin Salim
Performance: 15 August 2015
Two themes resonate very strongly in this historical biopic that has been specially commissioned for the Pesta Raya stage.
The first is how the titular character is a champion for the common man. The second is the value of integrity in the face of adversity.
It is fittingly poetic then that this production successfully brings across an authentic and utterly believable depiction of the trials and tribulations of our nation’s very first Head of State – replete with allusions to landmark historical events that provide the backdrop to the overarching narrative. The irony of us only now being able to truly see, listen and learn about Encik Yusof Ishak (played sensitively by the talented Sani Hussin) is not lost on the audience. We all walk away with a deeper understanding, awareness and appreciation for a man whose history we knew little about and also did not receive as much public fanfare and media spotlight.
Kudos to the creative team for celebrating the life and legacy of one of our pioneer statesmen. It is evident that director and playwright Zizi Azah Abdul Majid (with dramaturg Haresh Sharma) have been very hard at work and conducted extensive, quality research. They have taken great care to capture not only the essence of the man himself and his relationships with his family, friends and compatriots but also the nuances of that particular time in Singapore’s and Malaya’s past.
Fatimah Mohsin (an iconic tour de force in the Malay wedding industry), dresses the cast in exquisitely beautiful baju melayu and kebayas and even the gentlemen looked dashingly dapper a la HBO’s Mad Men and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.
The ensemble has great chemistry with one another and shuffles between the more tender, emotional scenes as well as the more light-hearted ones with ease. This is particularly impressive considering the fact that all of them (with the exception of the two principals) have to take on multiple roles whilst showcasing a range of regional Malay accents and dialects. Farah Ong excels in bringing out the comic character of the fictitious Sri. Najib Soiman and Erwin Shah Ismail exude confidence in bringing to life the many male characters that have been instrumental to Yusof Ishak’s life while Dalilah Shahril plays the maternal figure of Aishahton to perfection.
To those who may have reservations about viewing a performance in a vernacular that you may not be familiar with, don’t fret. Nothing is lost in translation and in fact, it’d be an opportune time to be reacquainted with our national language as the narrative of this icon of Singapore’s past unfolds before your eyes.
The only misgiving one has at the end of the performance (also known as the big prepare-your-tissues-coz-Siti-Khalijah-is-bringing-out-the-onion-cutting-ninjas moment) is how it is unfortunate that only a select audience would be privy to this wonderful showcase; those who were lucky and quick enough to get their hands on tickets to the sold-out shows.
Yusof (not Yusok, shame on you MAS!) definitely requires a restaging sometime soon. It may not be a glitzy musical played in a larger venue across the bay area and may not run for as long but it can stand as tall and as proud or even more so for finally putting the spotlight on other heroes who set the foundation for the first-world nation we are so proud of today.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
YUSOF by Zizi Azah
A special commission for Esplanade’s Pesta Raya 2015
13 – 16 August 2015
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Faizad is busy molding the future of the nation but on some nights he manages to escape the humdrum of reality to immerse himself in the world of theatre.