Last year was a full one in terms of theatre consumption. I caught a slew of plays from dazzling musicals to intense psychological thrillers, plays staged with only a few props to those with movie-style sets and special effects, plays encompassing everything from straight dramas to improv to comedy to farce to even horror. While I enjoyed most of them to varying degrees, two in particular stick in my mind as powerful examples of great theatre.  It’s a testimony to how good they were that I still remember scenes from them, still recall how they made me feel and still want to watch them again. And lucky for you and me, both will be re-staged soon.

The Instant Cafe Theatre is re-staging Alfian Sa’at’s Parah from 1st to 5th Febuary at Pentas 2, klpac and The Actor’s Studio will be re-staging Frank McGuinness’s Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me from 8th to 12th February at The Actor’s Studio Lot 10. (Details at bottom).

Parah (which I had written about earlier) has its points of reference Yasmin Ahmad’s film Talentime and Abdullah Hussain’s novel Interlock. The story revolves around high school classmates who find their innocent friendship threatened by events and forces that spiral our of their control. The play is unflinching in its confrontation of difficult themes like racial identity and shared history, but is also a poignant look at growing up in Malaysia. Alfian’s script is both honest and piercing in its emotional breadth as it paints uncomfortable truths about our society. All except one of the actors from the original cast will reprise their roles for the re-staging and Jo Kukathas will direct again.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is set in a singular Beirut cell, where three men—an American doctor, Irish journalist and English professor—have been taken in as political prisoners. As they are confined together in a space no larger than a bathroom,  they struggle with seclusion, their own prejudices, fears and insanity-bringing boredom whilst sharing their hopes and dreams for an uncertain future. A profound, powerful and moving piece on the unconquerable human will to survive and spirit of hope,  Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, like Parah, boasts moments of gut-wrenching honesty and emotion which only live theatre can deliver. Its re-staging will also see all three cast members and director Joe Hasham reprise their respective roles.

What’s noteworthy is that neither plays had superstar headliners but boasted actors who were deeply committed to their roles. Both had simple plots yet great depth and complexity. Both had small casts but showcased rich characterisation and intense dialogue. Both had very simple sets but left impressions that lasted long after I left my seat in the theatre.

Both displayed great writing, acting and direction. After all, isn’t that all you need to capture people’s attention? And capture it they did. I could tell by how enthralled my fellow audience members were. No one coughed of messed with their phones and everyone laughed and cried as if on cue. We were gripped and completely lost in the worlds created before us. Both plays boldy and wonderfully showed me what theatre does best: transpose to audience members intimately, immediately and intensely unadulterated emotion whilst provoking thought on bigger issues.

While they touch on different subjects and were written in different languages (SWWOM in English and Parah in Malay) I found both plays to be profound, thought provoking and deeply moving in their grappling with issues both universal and local and worthy of second viewings.

To those who say theatre is no longer relevant, watch these plays. To those who are skeptical of local productions, watch these plays. To those who think theatre is just fluff or is too far removed from Malaysian life, watch these plays. To those who think serious dramas can’t possibly be funny or entertaining, watch these plays. To those who don’t see the attraction of live theatre, watch these plays.

You’ve been given a second chance. Don’t waste it.

The Instant Café Theatre Company presents Parah
Director: Jo Kakuthas
Featuring: Farah Rani, Iedil Putra Alaudin, Gregory Sze & Brana Aruljothi
Date & Time: 1st, 2nd , 3rd , 4th , 5th February 2012 @ 8:30pm, 4th & 5th February 2012 @ 3pm
Venue: Pentas 2, Ground Floor, The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre
Ticket Prices: Wednesday @ RM38 flat-rate andThursday – Sunday @RM48. Concessions at RM38 (limited to 4 rows of seats = 76 seats). Concession price includes Student, Disabled, Senior Citizen and seats are allocated at the top row or ground row.

More info on Parah here.

The Actor’s Studio presents Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
Director: Joe Hasham OAM
Featuring: Charles Donnelly, Kingsley Judd & Gavin Yap
Date & Time: 8 Feb 2012 (Opening Night) – 11 Feb 2012 @ 8:30pm /12 Feb 2012 @ 3pm
Venue: The Actors Studio @ Lot 10
Ticket Prices: RM48 (Adults) and RM28 (Students, Disabled, TAS Card, UNHCR Card)
Ticket Promotion: 20% Discount for Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me and The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr in a single receipt.

More info on Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me here.