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Reviewed by:
  • Teater Atas Pokok (Theatre atop the Tree) by Dinsman (Shamsudin Osman)
  • Kathy Foley
Teater Atas Pokok (Theatre atop the Tree). Written and directed by Dinsman (Shamsudin Osman). Shah Alam Park, Shah Alam, Malaysia, 15 April 2016.

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Figure 1.

Dinsman open arms with cast and crew of Teater. (Photo: Noor Kasmara Sokarnor, Picturehouse Studio Malaysia)

Teater Atas Pokok was an ambitious project that sent actors hundreds of feet up into an impressive tree in the central park of Shah Alam, capital of Selangor State. The poet-author-director Dinsman (Fig. 1), who conceived the project, [End Page 220]

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Figure 2.

Teater Atas Pokok actors swing from the large tree. (Photo: Noor Kasmara Sokarnor, Picturehouse Studio Malaysia)

[End Page 221]

is among the well-known authors of Malay theatre and poetry who first emerged as a playwright in the 1970s. Dinsman’s work has always given voice to the concerns of the time.

Dinsman developed this piece as a response to the forces pushing for development in Kampung Bandar where his writers’ group Seniman Paksi Rakyat, Artists’ Axis of the People (PAKSI), holds monthly poetry readings at Madrasah Tarbiyah in Kuala Lumpur on themes linked to civil society. The play was bookended by two poems of Malaysian National Laureate Usman Awang (1929–2001). “Balada Terbunuhnya Beringan Tua di Pinggir Sebuah Bandaraya (Ballad of an Old Banyan Tree on the City Outskirts) and “Surat dari Masyarakat Burung kepada Datuk Bandar” (Letter from the Birds to the Mayor) both represent the rights of the natural world and local in the face of human greed, global forces, and government-enforced development. Community members who scale the tree are preserving it from forces of development (Figs. 2 and 3).

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Figure 3.

The community defending the tree included actors Nadhilah Suhaimi (l.) and Paik Yin (r.). (Photo: Noor Kasmara Sokarnor, Picturehouse Studio Malaysia)

The actors who climbed to the highest heights or swung on ropes during songs included Nadhilah Suhami, Fairul Pujangga, and Paik Yin, who were distinguished by their relative youth and muscular vigor. More seasoned players, such as veteran actor Bohari Ibrahim, stuck to the firmer branches, and singer Saidin Omar with his ukulele, and his musical partner, Sani Sudin, perched on a bench slung from a bough. Meanwhile veteran film director/writer/declaimer Yassin Salleh, who delivered the final poem from Usman [End Page 222] Awang, kept firmly on the ground. Political activism and commitment was a clear value of all the participants, who included a group of youthful musicians playing frame drums (kompang); a kuda kepang (horse trance dance) group) who, having scaled the tree like monkeys, had to be coached from the branches so the play could begin; a chorus of singers from Univsersiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI); and a group of puppeteers who represented the animals with rough hand puppets.

Presenting parts of the play high above the audiences’ heads made for moments that literally caused viewers to gasp. Visual/performance artist Paik Yin in particular climbed to amazing heights only later to descend on a swing for a musical number, and then to come down to the ground to enlist Thai likay actor/dancer Bhumin Dhanaketpisarn in the cause of saving the tree. All well-intentioned newcomers, including the assembled audience, were welcomed to this leafy community.

Kampung Banda Dalam A village that is our common heritage A fortress of protecting humanity Against the greedy destroying monster of capitalism.

(from the program; my translation)

The forces encroaching on the tree were represented by a caricature of an underminister (Surya Suryani) whose shiny synthetic costume announced her origins from a plastic, technology-dominated world with her peons (a pair dressed as Auguste clowns and a bulldozer driver, Fig. 4). These ludicrous eco-maurauders with their cardboard cutout bulldozer were easily deterred, and the bridge path where the bulldozer stood remained distant from the actual tree—it could not visually or physically encroach on the green space. One only wished that ecological degradations were so easily fended off as they were in this play.

The presentation—outdoors, at night...


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pp. 220-225
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