Interview with Irfan Kasban, Playwright “Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa”
Part of M1 Fringe Festival 2012: Art & Faith, Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa is a trilogy of plays inspired by the three main events leading to the establishment of Islam. Paired with the severely poetic nature of the Malay language, Hantaran offers a dimension that faith excludes and questions. The first two plays – Genap 40 and W.C. – were previously staged to small audiences, and this presentation marks the completion of the trilogy with the premiere of 94:05 alongside the other two. Performed by three talented theatre and TV actors, Sani Hussin, Mastura Ahmad and newcomer Rian Asrudi, Hantaran is a performance not to be missed.
For more details, please visit http://www.substation.org/hantaran-buat-mangsa-lupa/.
Muzlimbuzz’ writer, Fairuz Atiqah was honoured and pleased to get to ask Playwright/Director Irfan Kasban some questions about the play, his art and his inspirations.[divider] [box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: As an emerging playwright and theatre director, what inspires your work?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: People, nature, emotions and life in general. My biggest inspiration is water, which exists in many forms and structures.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: How would you personally define faith?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: I think it is Rumi who said that faith is the water that fills the cup (religion).[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: Describe Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa in a sentence.[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: My humble offerings to those who have forgotten of their existence.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: Can you tell us more about Genap 40, W.C. and 94:05?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: Genap 40, the first piece, is inspired by the birth of mankind, through Adam and Hawa (Eve). It talks about predestination, afterlife and the human condition. Genap 40 stars Mastura Ahmad playing a recently pregnant woman named Hawa, who requests for a meeting with the angel, Malaikat. The set is created as an art installation, and will performed in a ritualistic fashion, with Hawa preparing 40 glasses of tea.
W.C., inspired by the sacrifice of Ismail in Ibrahim’s hands, explores comfort and displacement. Two men are trapped in a toilet by circumstance, trying to negotiate a comfortable relationship in a very awkward space. Physicality is explored, with elements of Hajj pilgrimage, which frames the actions and gestures of the characters. Actors, Rian Asrudi and Sani Hussin, will literally be contained in a transparent toilet cubicle with very limited space to move. An intruder occasionally appears, shifting the balance of power and authority over the private space.
94:05, a monologue, invites the audience to the life and memories of Ahmad bin Abdullah, who struggles with his health, where death appears to more eminent with each passing day. He recites Surah 94 – Relief, focusing on 94:05 “So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief”, and shares stories of the Prophet Muhammad from memory, to ease himself, and maybe even find a reason to want to continue live.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: What first inspired you to write Genap 40, the first of the trilogy of plays?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: Well in Islam, the number 40 appears a lot, and one of the most interesting occurrences is that an egg and a sperm takes 40 days to develop to an embryo where it’s soul and four other decrees; iman (faith), takdir (destiny), rezeki (sustenance) and ajal (lifespan), will be blown into it. I wrote it in my younger days where I was a little angsty and questioned the role of freewill, in predestination.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: Considering that Genap 40 and W.C. have been staged before, how different would these two plays be in their restaging?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: The new, very talented cast brings a different dimension to the pieces. The addition of a very young actor met the ideal image I created whilst I was initially writing the piece.
The space also affects the staging with a bigger audience capacity. Also I think the synergy between the pieces is something quite exciting, putting all the plays into perspective while charting my journey as a human, and as an artist.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: I think the title Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa is very peculiar. Is there any significance behind the title?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: So far, I have not seen work that has dealt with spirituality in the Malay Muslim context. I felt like maybe we have forgotten that Islam is a way of life, and for me, life is an art form. So I hope this trilogy, written for people who may existed, has existed, or have yet to exist, strikes a chord we have forgotten existed. Very existentialist, but yes, I’ve decided to name this audiences Mangsa Lupa.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: Considering that Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa offers a dimension that faith excludes and questions, how would you respond to the controversy that is bound to surface from Hantaran? What do you expect the audience reaction to be?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: Well I hope there would be controversy; in a sense I hope people would continue the discussion after the play. That for me would mean that Hantaran is a success. People should talk about faith and address their questions every now and then. It not only strengthens our faith, but eradicates the loneliness we experience in facing these questions alone. But for the record, I do not write plays for controversy sake, instead I challenge perception, to explore discourse.
When I staged the first two plays, the reaction from the audience was silence; one that is contemplative I hope. I hope putting the plays side by side in a trilogy might change things, in a sense I find a balance in expressing my faith.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: I’m curious as to the sort of research you do before embarking on writing and directing the plays. Can you share with us any bits of research that you found particularly interesting?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: Themes for my research were gathered during my youth when I went for weekly madrasahs (religious school/class), and Sirah (Islamic history) was my favourite subject. The three plays reflect the three stories I loved the most; Adam a.s & Hawa, Ibrahim a.s. & Ismail a.s., and Muhammad s.a.w.
Also I compared translations of the Holy Quran, especially ‘Alam-Nasyrah’, my favourite surah which frames 94:05, to see how meanings change in different language and choice of vocabulary.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: Out of all the three plays, which play resonates with you the most and why?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: Well they all resonate with me, as they somewhat document a part of my life. And for now, since it is the most recent piece I have written, 94:05 resonates with me the most. Much of the inspiration came from me accepting my fate and faith. I also included a lot of theatre devices where the result is a very intimate performance.[box_dark]Muzlimbuzz: In your honest opinion, why should people watch Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa?[/box_dark]
Irfan Kasban: Why not?
Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa (Offerings for the Victims of Amnesia) will be staged at the Substation Theatre from 16-18 February at 8pm and on 18 February at 3pm. Tickets are $19. More information on the Singapore Fringe is available athttp://www.singaporefringe.com, as well as at the mobile sitem.singaporefringe.com. Tickets for all performances can be bought at Sistic.