Love in Georgetown City: On intimacy, relationships and censorship
Review by Hamidah Abd Rahman

The bed is perhaps the most intimate place for most of us. It hides our most vulnerable state and holds secrecy, of our pillow talks, relationships, affairs and even flings that no one else outside the closed doors will know.

Writer and director Fa Abdul’s Love in Georgetown City tackles those intimate moments through 10 different short stories within the play, through various characters’ perspectives –from a post one-night stand conversation, to the “makcik bawang” gossiping on the youth’s love affairs. Love in Georgetown City is also the same show that was shut-down after its opening night showcase back in 2019.

There was much excitement to what each short story entailed, as it is definitely uncommon to watch a Malaysian play that discusses topics that are usually kept private. However, the tales in Love in Georgetown City can be best described as comedy sketches that did not seem to explore enough the theme of relationships.

Perhaps timing was an issue for each story as each of them was only allocated around 10 minutes, but even the more serious short stories seemed to lack a richness and depth that could have made them more compelling.

Were they heart-warming? Definitely. Thought-provoking? At certain times. Raunchy? Sure, but in a most displeasing way. Other than featuring human conditions of desire, longing and love, the stories were also meant to highlight our nation’s societal issues of race relations, marital expectations and prejudice that blanket over many romantic or intimate relationships. Although it was noted that the stories would have a raunchy, yet light-hearted tone to them, the vulgar jokes appeared devoid of any sophistication that could have delivered the intended themes better. They instead cheapened the issues, rather than being relatable and moving. The story's crude humour just left a bad taste to the mouth.

To come to that conclusion feels disappointing, especially given the history of what Love in Georgetown City had gone through in February 2019.

As aforementioned, prior to the shut-down, Love in Georgetown City was originally titled Sex in Georgetown City, which had led to an upset when a group of Muslims accused the production for having an agenda to promote a story that highlights “free sex and the LGBT” lifestyle as reported by a local news portal 1.

In particular, Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang (Penang Muslim Network), a group of Islamic devout, were the most vocal against the production, as the members held a protest and demanded its cancellation, on the night of the opening showcase at Penang Performing Arts Centre2.

Renamed Love in Georgetown City, the show even had its opening night attended by the police, to ensure that there were no alleged depictions of pornography. Despite the changes, the police authorities still advised for the production to be cancelled after its first night of showcase, to appease the protestors.

It is interesting to note that the controversy that surrounded Love in Georgetown City all started from the marketing of the play. It had caused a great misunderstanding and unwanted provocation from religious groups, merely because of the word “sex” in the original title and just like that, six weeks of hard work, rehearsals and preparation were suddenly stopped.

The event begs the question on the role of art censorship that seems to continue to stifle creativity and growth of the arts in this country. It creates a concern on the freedom of expression, and the extent of scrutiny that takes into ensuring that a piece of art is removed, for whatever reason that it seems to go against.

Of course, Malaysia is no stranger to censorship but it is still a shame that it is being practiced even in this day and age. There is still much to be learnt of our society and of ourselves through the arts.

Especially in theatre, the stage compels an audience to actively engage with themes and content of plays, as if looking back at ourselves and our own reality in the mirror. It forces us to promote and contribute to social discourse, dialogue and even further, advocate for change. To listen and witness different perspectives through theatre, and also through different mediums of art, allows us to progress as a community and is therefore, a necessary process.

Frankly, the outrage that Love in Georgetown City faced was unacceptable and if anything, further proves our need to nurture critical and rational thinking. Ironically, the same incident seems to reflect the fears that this nation has over certain taboo topics, like sex – the main subject of the play itself. We need to consider initiatives to better protect our expression of arts here, and perhaps re-evaluate how suppression of speech fits into our country.

Fa Abdul’s Love in Georgetown City might have only been made up of comedy sketches and was received with a disheartening reaction – but the play’s focus to address uncomfortable and provocative issues without much restraint deserves to be lauded.

Love in Georgetown’s showings were put to a stop in February 2019, but the show was later re-staged in April 2019, with a new title, Rebound. The recording of the play was screened on CloudTheatre for two nights from Dec 25 to Dec 26, 2020.



1Mok, Opalyn. “Protesters fail to stop sold-out ‘Love in Georgetown City’ play.” Malay Mail, Malay Mail, 14 February 2019, https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/02/14/protesters-fail-to-stop-sold-out-love-in-georgetown-city-play/1723117.

2Mok, Opalyn. “‘Love in Georgetown City’ furore: Art must be guided by religious values, says Penang mufti.” Malay Mail, 15 February 2019, https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/02/15/love-in-george-town-furore-art-must-be-guided-by-religious-values-penang-mu/1723244.

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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