Mohamad Faizal Abdullah on Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?)
What’s so amazing about theatre, and especially Fringe Theatre, is the diversity of what we can experience. And the VAULT Festival makes that even more noticeable as over it’s run, we can see shows from all around the world all in one place.
One such show is Mohamad Faizal Abdullah’s Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?) which plays for four performances between 28 January and 5 February (full dates and info can be found here). Billed as a lecture-performance inspired by Mohamad’s own experiences of living in London, it explores what it means to be Malay and what it then means to be Malay in Singapore.
Always keen to expand our knowledge of other cultures, we caught up with Mohamad to find out more about the show and Malay.
The play is about your experiences of living in London as someone from a different culture. What made you want to explore this theme on stage?
It’s an opportunity to hear a Malay voice, a Malay perspective, see Malay aesthetics, sensibilities, on a London stage. We don’t often see that. And even more uniquely, a Malay person from Singapore. I think people from the UK might know Singapore, but not so much the Malay Singaporean. It’s not so much about setting the record straight, more of ‘here is what you might have missed’.
What more can you tell us about the play, what do you hope it says to an audience?
It’s him sharing his culture and history, giving the audience an insight but it’s also a chance for him to look at himself as a Malay, a Muslim and a Singaporean, who is living in London. As he is sharing, he is also discovering. It’s about his sense of self, of belonging and his place in this world and whether it matters or not if people allow him the space. Or if he should not wait for that space and instead fight for that space and own it.
You’re originally from Singapore, and describe yourself as Muslim-Malay, what can you tell us about the Malay aspect of your culture?
The ‘Muslim’ and ‘Malay’, for me at least, they both complement each other. Islam is my faith and Malay is my ethnicity. I have found it very beneficial how elements of one feed into the other. In my case, I find it hard to separate the ‘Malay’ and the ‘Muslim’ in me. And being a Muslim-Malay from Singapore, that is another layer that I need to work through. If we’re talking specifically about Malay, I love the colours, the flavours and community. We are warm and generous. We defer, but we’re not weak.
You have made theatre in both Singapore and the UK, how do the two differ, if at all?
The audiences are definitely different. And especially with the kind of work that I like to do and this performance especially, I think the question of who I’m making it for becomes very important. Theatre in Singapore is still young, growing and finding its footing, whereas theatre in the UK is more mature and has a longer and more varied history. That age and history is also a factor when it comes to making work and the kind of work you make. The opportunity and accessibility to make theatre also differs. Although the challenges differ, it is as challenging to make theatre in Singapore as it is in the UK.
Do you feel it important that London theatre embraces the wide range of cultures that are present in the city?
Yes. Ideally I would not like to explain why I think so, but I feel like I have to. We should happily embrace the range and diversity that is present in London. It might not always be our cup of tea, we might not agree with what is onstage, but we are in the ecosystem, and we need to find ways to co-exist. And the ‘ecosystem’ is not just the artists. It includes venues, producers, companies, drama schools/ universities, ACE, funders and just as importantly, the audience.
And we talk about diversity all the time, but is there enough opportunity for people such as yourself to present work from other cultures?
There will never be enough opportunities. We can always do more. I think the dream is for there to be a day where we don’t have to specifically create opportunities for a marginalised or under-represented groups; each work is chosen and judged based on the merit of its quality, creativity and craft. That is the goal. We’ll get there hopefully.
During lockdown you put on Keturunan Ruminah: A WhatsApp Play, which, as the title suggests, was a play presented over WhatsApp! What was that experience like, and do you have plans for anything similar in the future?
It was the first time we tried anything like that, and we were experimenting and learning together as we went along. And there were many things that we learned that we are keen to keep exploring as we go along. It was also an opportunity to understand how an audience takes in a performance and what their expectations and thoughts are. I was recently awarded the DYCP grant that I will be using to explore creating digital performances. As well as participating in Camden People’s Theatre Starting Blocks programme – a collaboration with Hector Manchego, a fellow theatre maker whom I met at the Royal Court’s No Borders. We will be experimenting with digital and non-conventional ways of making performance and see how that will affect the audience experience. Making and experimenting with digital performances is my new infatuation.
What else do you have planned for 2023 then? Will we be seeing Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi elsewhere once the VAULT Festival is over?
I’m manifesting for a more creative year in 2023, be it as a theatre maker or an actor. The creative team and I hope that this run at the VAULT Festival will open more doors for Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? We are definitely looking to tour the performance across the UK and stage it for a longer run in London. We are also looking at conducting workshops about learning Jawi, Bahasa Melayu and the different aspects of Malay culture that will run parallel to the performances and tour.
Our thanks to Mohamad for his time. Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? plays 28 & 29 January and 4 & 5 February at 4.15 each performance. Further information and bookings can be found here.