Fauziah Nawi’s RASA on CloudTheatre
Review by Hamidah Abd Rahman

Adapting to the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysian veteran actress Fauziah Nawi produced and directed RASA, a play that is based on the late National Laureate, Datuk Usman Awang’s literary work of Hang Tuah. As mentioned on RASA’s online playbill on CloudTheatre, the performance tells the story of the feud between the Sultan of Melaka’s admirals, Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat, and the drama that ensues from their conflict.

The poster and the title of RASA (translated to “feel” in Malay) stirred up high expectations for the adaptation of the famous piece of Malay literature. The addition of behind-the-scenes preview pictures and videos seemed to further promise a fulfilling and heart-felt show. However, RASA turned out to live up to its other translated Malay meaning (“taste”), as solely being a “taster” that provided snippets of the classic folklore that left a disappointing impression instead.

RASA began with high energy instantly, introducing a dramatic fight scene that involved a huge ensemble cast, and stellar choreography. With minimal stage design – black platforms – this introductory scene relied on the actors’ sheer commitment to their roles and the overall climactic music and lighting work that seemingly transported the audience onto a real battlefield.

Unfortunately, the excitement that was evoked from the introduction dissipated as RASA progressed, as it became clear that the play opted to only capture the most dramatic moments of the great Hang Tuah tale, rather than retell the entire story. For instance, the famous duel between Hang Tuah and his closest friend Hang Jebat, as well as the moment of Puteri Gunung Ledang’s unreasonable marriage requirements to the Sultan of Melaka, were some of the iconic scenes that were depicted. This performance structure explained why the noted duration was incredibly short, at only 40 minutes, and perhaps, could be the cause for RASA’s underwhelming story delivery.

Although the performance seemed to follow a linear storyline, the transition from one scene to the next seemed slightly jarring. With no provided context at the beginning of each scene, RASA began to disconnect, and this was further highlighted by the inconsistent camera work that cheapened and created more disjointedness to the story. Granted, the play still maintained the major bits of the Malay folklore but the mentioned factors failed to deliver the true essence of what makes the story of Hang Tuah influential in the first place.

Perhaps for an “introductory point”, RASA is suitable for any keen audience member who wants to delve into the literature of the late Datuk Usman Awang. However, unless RASA is indeed a “taster” performance for a planned full-featured length play of Hang Tuah possibly in the future, the play’s storyline structure remains lacklustre.

Nevertheless, the rich spoken dialogues, the well-choreographed fight scenes and the actors’ exceptional performances, were saving graces for RASA. As mentioned before, the play had minimal stage design, which was a similar case for the costume design as well. Actors were mostly adorned in black, but each one of them had signature pieces that were styled to signify the story’s setting in the era of the Melaka Sultanate, as could be seen with the male actors wearing the “tengkolok” (traditional male headgear) on top of their heads.

The minimal costume choices could have been a distraction and halted the audience’s disbelief, but the ensemble cast in RASA dispelled those notions by making each scene believable. It was evident that each of the actors were fully dedicated to their respective roles, as every physicality, emotion and word expressed was gripping enough to make the audience feel as if we were in the same time and space as them.

The fight between Hang Tuah (Wan Shades) and Hang Jebat (Azlan Komeng) was indeed the most anticipated scene, as well as the most impressive as the emotional acting displayed by Wan and Azlan truly captured the nuances of former comrades turned enemies.

The choreography of the fight scene was especially well-crafted. The audience could sense the angst and tension between Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. The fight not only conveyed their animosity towards each other, but also provided glimpses of their shared history as admirals and former comrades. It is quite hard to put into words how intense and convincing the fight scene between Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat was, but it definitely can be stated that this exact scene was the one that evoked the most “rasa” (“feel” this time!).

RASA may have received a lukewarm response but Fauziah’s determination to adapt and provide an online theatre show must be commended, especially during a time that is difficult for most artistes in the country. Perhaps once Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases have decreased in numbers, and it is safe to have theatres up and running again, it would be a delight to watch RASA as a full-length play in the future.

RASA was produced by Sanggar Teater Fauziah Nawi (Stefani), and was recorded collaboratively with Jabatan Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Negara (JKKN) and Gagasan Transformasi Anak Seni (GTAS).

The recorded performance was streamed on CloudTheatre from Dec 16 until Dec 22 2020.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Hamidah Abd Rahman is a writer under the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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