Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu. confronts our memories of the past
Review by Hamidah Abd Rahman

Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu., or translated in Malay as “Then. That Moment.” is a performance piece devised by Kongsi Petak, an initiative that aims to promote multidisciplinary performances. The play is a part of its on-going collaborative series, called Seni Tiga, in which the performances are focused on expressing through three different elements – movement, visuals and sound.

The performance was intended to be staged in April 2020. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic that halted all art performances and exhibitions in the country, Dulu. Saat Itu. was later pre-recorded and streamed on the online streaming platform, CloudTheatre, in December 2020.

Dulu. Saat Itu. delves into the themes of memory, recollections of the past and how those moments inevitably affect our present. Through physical theatre and artistic devising, the play showcases the journey of healing, from a past that is constantly being re-lived, and the painstaking, confrontational process that inevitably comes with healing.

The performance consists of two actors, Dexter Lim and Aisha Hassan, who play unnamed characters in the show. Their character’s relations are not exactly defined to the audience, but together, they go through the heavy, emotional work to heal from the vivid recollections of their traumas, which are depicted in the play.

18--Photo by Mah Jun Yi, Courtesy of Seni Tiga 2020

It is an interesting take to have unnamed characters, as the ambiguity makes them relatable to the audience. By having unnamed characters, the audience is prevented from unconsciously attaching any preconceived identities into them, and this makes them more accessible to the audience as their experiences evoke a sense of a lived experience. It becomes easier for us to become immersed in the pain and the trauma that Dexter and Aisha experience when they explore their past memories, because these memories could be similar to our very own reality too.

For instance, there is a scene with Dexter’s character that is quite profound in its portrayal of how suffocating trauma can be to a person. The unnamed character stands vulnerable and bare without any clothes under a spotlight, as coffee grounds begin to pour over him from above. This takes place for some time, and as the audience, we gradually see the unnamed character growing restless, as he tries to brush off the coffee grounds but fails to do so, as it only continues to shower and suffocate him even more. The scene ends with a black out, and the unnamed character vanishes, as if he were swallowed up by the haunting of his trauma.

The scene seemed like it was the stuff of nightmares, especially since the accompanying eerie music intensified the immersive experience. Personally, there was almost a visceral reaction when witnessing the moment, as it was obvious that Dexter seemed to be in pain, and had difficulties in breathing with the sheer amount of coffee grounds that kept pouring over him. There was a sense of oppressiveness and drowning of emotions within the scene that made it all seem real to witness, a physical manifestation of how humans would try to suppress their memories or any traumatic experience, rather than confronting them. It can be interpreted that if we do not confront these painful moments in our lives, we will eventually drown in those memories.

Dulu. Saat Itu.’s stage setup, sound and lighting also deserve praise, as the combination of these elements created a visually stunning show. Nevertheless, although the aesthetic of the performance was impressive and the main subject of memories was an interesting area to explore, the concept seemed to fall short.

In simpler terms, the performance felt like a “donut”, in which the story seemed to come off as a complete “whole”. However, it becomes quite evident that there is a “hole” in the middle, that it is missing a piece in the centre, which are the nuances that would have made it an even more compelling show.

Yes, there are profound moments in the performance, but after much contemplation, it was perhaps only moving because of the visual aesthetic of each scene, not because of the script and story. Truthfully, the story itself seemed disjointed. It is understood that the scenes performed by Dexter and Aisha are meant to showcase fragments of their characters’ memories separately and it is probably intentional for the play to showcase the character’s OWN experiences, rather than linking them together.

However, this is perhaps the factor that made the story seem hollow in the first place. The fact that there was nothing that seemed to tie these memories together seemed to create the lack of cohesiveness, which made the concept hard to grasp for the audience. Personally, I felt that if the memories of the characters had a connection or linkage, it probably would have strengthened the overall concept and provided more clarity in the storyline. In effect, it would bring the story to an equally great footing as the performance’s visuals.

Despite the criticism, Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu. was an enjoyable and thought-provoking show with its stunning imagery and emotive acting from both Dexter and Aisha. I look forward to the next collaborative project in the Seni Tiga series.

Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu. was streamed on CloudTheatre for three nights, from Dec 18 until Dec 20 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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