The world as we know it, will end.
That was the Apocalips, as interpreted by playwright Ivan Yeo in a double bill play I went to last Friday night. Double bill because it is a two-play combo, first you have What’ll Break You and after the intermission, the second play, Apocalips. Indeed a smart thought out interpretation by director Ida Nerina to have two plays at one night, both thought provoking and heart wrenching.
Okay, heart-wrenching should not be a suitable word for What’ll Break You because I didn’t cry, but the performance by Zahim Albakri was indeed heart-breaking. What’ll Break You sits in the interrogation room with Mr. Whiteacre (Zahim Albakri) and his said attorney Kevin Schmidt (Gavin Yap). Quite an emotionally draining performance by Zahim although I couldn’t really grasp Kevin Schmidt’s character in this one. One moment there was compassion and the next, quite stone cold. But if you’re used to watching CSI or Crime & Investigation TV series, you would definitely imagine the quality and standard of Ivan’s writing at par with any Hollywood products.
Apocalips, on the other hand focuses on three couples whose lives at the end were intertwined. One couple, Chris (Ash Nair) and Wendy (Tania Khan) questions the possibility of a future together, another couple, Troy (Zahim Albakri) and Nicole (Stephanie Van Driesen) questions the possibility of falling in love and the other, Jude (Gavin Yap) and Benjamin (Vince Cheong) questions the possibility of being together. The amazing twist is the apocalips where the world, as we know it, ends. In this piece, although not as emotionally heavy as the first play, is more thought provoking and current. It deals with everyday drama and dilemma in relationships. Although these issues were set in different circumstances, it is still relatable. I haven’t seen Ash Nair, Tania Khan and Vince Cheong acted before and for newcomers, they’re pretty good. Stephanie on the other hand, is a natural. I’ve first seen her as Betty in the Secret Life of Nora and I thought she was brilliant in the musical, and still brilliant in Apocalips. As for Gavin and Zahim, I rest my case. Although, this is the first time I can visually imagine Zahim with hair. 😉
You can tell by the very short review I’ve just made, I’m not someone from the production or theatre industry. But I would like to congratulate Ivan Yeo for his brilliance and I wish, his works will get a space in our television because of the lack of English TV productions in Malaysia of late. I remember meeting him at the Kr8tif Digital Conference in December last year, introduced by a mutual friend. Didn’t know then, I was in the presence of greatness. But I guess that’s humility. As the divinity lies in the smallest thing, greatness lies in the presence of the unknown.
Although I couldn’t get in touch with the writer, I did get to catch a little bit of Ida Nerina’s time for an interview and I’d like to really thank her taking the time to attend to my (pretty naive) questions. Please excuse the organic fluidity, it’s just natural for us as friends. 🙂
Q: Is this your first time directing a full length theatre? I know you have directed some comedy sketches for Actorlympics. But how is this different from the ones you’ve been involved with (as behind the scenes)?
IDA: No it’s not, I first did a director’s workshop being mentored by Joe Hasham and the late Krishen Jit & directed a Jit Murad piece called VISITS. I had 3 female actors- all brilliant! Melissa Saila, Liza Othman & Sofea Jane! I know…like WOW, right? 😉 About a year later (circa 2003?) I re-staged VISITS as a full production under Zahim & Jits’ theatre company DramaLab. This time I had Liza Othman, Vanidah Imran & Sarah Shahrum. Jealous yet? In March this year, I put together 8 writers, 8 stories, 16 WOMEN actors (ALL SUPERSTAR NAK TERMAMPOS!) doing about 8 minute pieces each for Capricomm for the 100th International Women’s Day. It was So much FUN! I guess the difference with this piece is I have testosterone involved with the 4 guys. Plus it’s my first venture to learning the ropes of co-producing under my little company “big EyEs Entertainment” with Susan Lankester’s company Catwoman Productions. (It’s all about the money, money, moneyyy…- LOVE that song!) FYI, there is NO direction in Actorlympics- it’s all off the cuff. A series of improvs. No script. Nothing. Even the ideas come from the audience!
Q: How was the cast selected? We know some are your friends, but were they picked to suit the characters based from the scripts? I always wonder how theatre casts are selected.
IDA: Well the truth is, Sue & I knew we needed and wanted 2 male actors who can switch roles in one night swiftly. That reads damn good actors who.. yes, are aesthetically pleasing too. Plus if you want to get these very busy big names, you’ve got to dangle something that will make them go…”Ooh, that’s going to be a challenge!” And the truth is, I have wanted to direct Zahim for many years now. I just didn’t have the right text. And Gavin & I have worked quite a few times together. I saw him last in “Someone To Watch Over Me” and thought to myself, “YEP! Sue & I made the right decision!” His acting has matured and grown with him it’s pretty amazing. And his PROFESSIONALISM is just unbeatable! The other roles, we had a reading/audition organised almost 2 years ago. Stephanie blew me away for the simple fact she came with headshots and resume and even a change of clothes in case I wanted to see her in ‘Nicole’s’ office attire. Tania actually gave the best read, to be honest. The 2 other boys know this – we had a really tough time casting for Chris though we found someone by May, and actually had a different Benjamin initially. But then they both pulled out in July- for their own different reasons. So the search for Father Benjamin & Chris re-started. I caught some of Vince in AF1, and when Sue put his name towards me, I thought if he could do those different genres of music- he can damn well learn to act properly! And I had seen and heard of Ash, and when he came to meet me for a reading, he gave a pretty damn good read. So here we are. That’s how I cast my cast. 🙂
Q: I really like the twist in Apocalips, did you put any adjustment or personal input in it or its all from the playwright’s script/story?
IDA: The writer. We had minor adjustments made of course, but it’s otherwise from Ivan’s head. I just made it farcical.
Q: This, I heard, is Ivan Yeo’s debut as a playwright. How did you find him or how did you come across the script?
IDA: It’s Ivan’s first PLAY. he’s written short films and tv shows… I’m not sure if he has had any of them produced though. He’s got a twisted, quirky, brilliant mind. LOVE!
Q: The first play, What’ll Break You seems quite short, although quite heavy. I would love to see it interpreted on screen. Would you venture into that? Usually, movies are adapted into plays. But do you think Malaysian audience or even the theatre people ready to adapting plays to screens?
IDA: Yes, I would. But let me get over this first. Well, Zahim just adapted Jit Murad’s “Spilt Gravy On Rice” into a big screen flick. And from what I’ve seen, it looks pretty damn good! Actually Jit (and Ivan)’s writings read like a film. It’s been up to the directors to translate them for theatre… Re: What’ll Break You/Apocalips, Ivan and I (& hopefully Sue too!) actually want to take them to singapore… Must find the other Ivan in my life then… Ivan Heng of WildRIce.
(Ida, eyeing for Ivan Heng, huh? 😉 ) Well, I hope you guys who are reading gets to learn a lot from the production as I have when I got the answers to my questions. Please please please go and watch it for yourself. And no, I’m not paid to do this review and promote the play(S). As artists, we crave recognition. And I think they’re as good and deserving of such praises and recognition.
What’ll Break You / Apocalips is currently being staged at KL Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) from 3rd November until 13th November. Call 0340479000 to book your tickets today! I guarantee you, it’s totally worth it!