Meet Omar Ali. He’s a resident director at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac). He often appears on stage, in productions, ranging between large-scale musicals and 10-minute dramas. He also does set design, helps adapt English scripts into Bahasa Malaysia, and teaches performing arts.
Good gravy, is there anything this man doesn’t do? What’s most striking about this versatile theatre practitioner is that he never intended to get into the performing arts.
“I liked theatre as a child, but performing arts wasn’t something I thought I would pursue. But I had an ex, who was crazy about the performing arts. She was very passionate about it, and because of her passion, I was drawn in,” recalls Omar, 34, in a recent interview at KLPac.
“I would drive her here (KLPac) for her jobs, whether acting or stage managing. And I guess when you’re around this place, it sort of sucks you in!”
It’s been a long journey for the Johor-born actor, whose start in theatre was, of all things, as a zombie in 2010’s Serangan Zombi Pertama Di Malaysia (Malaysia’s First Zombie Attack).
“It was a great opening for me. I didn’t have to worry about lines, I just had to go on stage, and be a zombie!” remembers Omar, who had quit his copywriting job back then, and found his new calling.
In 2011, Omar heard about another local theatre production called This Cannot, That Cannot. One of the original cast members had dropped out, and the production needed an actor who could speak Malay.
Omar decided to try out for that role – and so began a colourful career in the local performing arts scene.
Over the years, Omar has acted in many shows, including Tragedi Hamlet (2016), Uda Dan Dara (2015) and Rashomon (2013). At present, Omar is a facilitator at The Actors Studio Academy in KLPac, where he teaches speech and drama.
In 2013, Omar was awarded the Short+Sweet Festival Director’s Award, but he modestly maintains that he is still clumsy at writing, and needs to improve.
Tackling a classic
His next stage appearance is in Betrayal, an adaptation of Harold Pinter’s classic play, presented by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat. Directed by Joe Hasham, the play also features Stephanie van Driesen, Razif Hashim and Jad Hidhir.
Betrayal is a story of the love triangle between Emma (van Driesen), her husband Robert (Omar) and his best friend Jerry (Razif). After Jerry confesses his love to Emma at a party, the two begin an affair that goes on for years, culminating in a twisted web of deception and secrets.
Betrayal is notable for being told in reverse chronological order, with its first scene taking place in the year 1977, and its last scene in 1968. It is considered one of Pinter’s major works, and won the Olivier Award for Best New Play and the New York Critic’s Circle Award.
“Each dialogue, though minimal, can convey a myriad of meanings. Much of the dialogue is also punctuated with pauses – pauses which are important and crucial in the setting up of each scene. Every line, every word, every moment, every pause has an intrinsic influence on the outcome of the 10 year journey of the play,” says director Joe.
Another notable thing about this production is that it will be performed in two languages – English and Bahasa Malaysia.
Omar is more than aware that Betrayal will push the cast and crew real hard.
“Joe chose to stage the play in two languages on alternate nights to introduce Pinter’s work to a Bahasa Malaysia-speaking audience. If that is not enough of a challenge, the play will be staged at Indicine – a venue known for its intimate setting,” says Omar.
And who translated Pinter’s lines? None other than Omar, who last year directed Datuk Seri, a local adaptation of Macbeth, which he translated into Bahasa Malaysia, with the help of his father Tan Sri Muhammad Ali Hashim.
“With Shakespeare, for example, you could sort of ‘hide’ behind flowery language. But here, Pinter’s writing is concise. You want to translate it into Bahasa Malaysia, and still have an openness about interpretation.
“Something as simple as ‘I am glad to see you’ … how do you say that in Bahasa Malaysia?”
Translating Betrayal has been eye-opening, according to Omar. Acting in it is also quite an experience, especially since it’s a bilingual production.
“I’ve never done anything like this before … two sets of lines! It can mess you up. But the story is just wonderful, and what Joe (Hasham) has done with it is just great,” says Omar.
Betrayal will be showing at Indicine at KLPac, Kuala Lumpur from May 19 to June 4. The show contains mature content. For tickets and more information, call 03-4047 9000 or visit www.ticketpro.com.my.