After sparking controversy in its country of origin, Malaysian play Parah has come to the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the World Theatre Festival to share its thought-provoking and charming story.
Racial tensions run high in Malaysia, a fact that Australian audiences will soon learn from Parah as they watch the four endearing teenage characters struggle to find their own place in a world that judges them not only by their studious merits, but by their skin colour and their parent’s heritage. Malaysians Melur and Hafiz, Chinese Kahoe and Indian Mahesh form a close knit group of friends whose bonds are challenged when their racial backgrounds suddenly change from providing the punch line of friendly jokes to initiating questions about the justice of the world they live in.
The cast deliver a strong and engaging performance. Performing in Malay, the young actors deliver their lines with humour and passion, giving life to the English translations projected behind them. Each of the four actors, Farah Rani, Iedil Putra, Gregory Sze and Branavan Aruljothi, portray their characters with compassion and concentrated energy, forming a cohesive ensemble.
The simplicity of the work is what makes this play effective, especially when subtitled, writer Alfian Sa’at using familiar structures such as the high school “book report” to have the student characters deliver complex ideas about Malaysia’s racial heritage and the social future of the country. The premise, based on true events, of the students having to take responsibility for defending their rights when a book which demeans India Malaysians by using the slur “pariah” is assigned as school reading, provides a context in which many conversations between students, teachers, parents and government officials can take place without needing to visit more than the character’s school and home. This allows the focus of the play to remain on the two over-arching themes, racism and friendship, and the tension created when the two exist side by side.
Parah is the kind of play that has audiences talking when they leave the theatre. Without over-explaining a complex issue, it invites further conversation and promotes awareness, not just about Malaysia’s social norms and habits but by comparison Australia and the wider world’s as well. Parah is the perfect mix of funny, engaging and instructive theatre and is well worth a visit.
Brisbane Powerhouse presents
The Instant Cafe Theatre Company
by Alfian Bin Sa'at
Directed by Jo Kukathas
Venue: Visy Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 13 - 17 Feb 2013
Tickets: $35 – $28
Part of the 2013 World Theatre Festival