When Darynn Wee joined her friends for a spooky night out filled with youthful kicks and ghost stories during her university days in Penang, she didn’t expect that one day she would actually be playing one of the supernatural beings on stage.
But more than being unnerved about revisiting a blood-curdling scary story, Wee, 25, says she feels the burden get her character right in the upcoming theatre show Fragrance (Wangian), which opens at Five Arts Centre’s Kotak space, Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur on April 18.
Wee will assume the role of Salbiah, a factory worker, who was murdered in Penang nearly 30 years ago.
“I’m afraid that I might portray her wrongly. I want to do justice to the character. I feel more responsible because it’s a real person,” shares Wee, who is Five Arts Centre’s production assistant.
The hour-long play, written and directed by Johor-born Penang-based Noor Rizuwan, will be presented in Malay (with English surtitles).
From a mini devised theatre piece (part of Reka Art Space’s Initiate Develop Perform incubator programme in 2015), Rizuwan developed the script into a full-length play called Bercakap Dengan Salbiah in 2016, staged at the Wayang diSinkeh show series in Penang. It was later restaged as Fragrance in 2017 at the same venue. Wee acted in both stagings.
Rizuwan, a 29-year-old Universiti Sains Malaysia theatre graduate, says he was intrigued by stories of the haunting when he first heard about them during his university days, just like Wee (also a USM theatre graduate).
“I was curious why a ghost has a name. I’m really interested in urban legends. So I dug deep and discovered that it’s based on an actual story about a murder victim” says Rizuwan, referring to Salbiah Yeop Abdul Rahman who was gruesomely murdered by her police inspector boyfriend Saderi Abdul Samat and dumped in a ravine off Jalan Lembah Permai in the 1980s.
It is believed by the locals that Salbiah appears as a woman in white and gets into the cars of unsuspecting drivers along “Jalan Bukit Salbiah” in Penang, (what the locals call Jalan Lembah Permai, formerly known as Vale of Tempe during the colonial era) and causing deadly accidents.
Rizuwan, who grew up listening to shamanic stories from his grandmother about his late grandfather, is drawn to supernatural tales. He even claims to have seen an “entity” as a young boy. It’s this inquisitive mind that brought him to Salbiah’s tale.
“I started collecting these stories in Penang by talking to the locals, friends and reading it up online. However, only Salbiah’s story was interesting,” says Rizuwan, who also directed works such as Hantu Rumah Mayat (2011), Bukan Bunuh Diri (2013) and The Sounds (2018).
“I compiled the ghost stories relating to Salbiah and tried to find a common thread. I also researched the actual murder case from newspaper cuttings. I merged the urban legend and the facts and embellished it a little,” he adds.
Rizuwan even managed to track down people who actually knew the real Salbiah.
Fragrance is part of Rizuwan’s long term project in a six-part series that will feature different Malaysian urban legends and supernatural tales.
Each tale will be connected to the five senses and the sixth sense.
“That’s why the play is called Fragrance. People say when Salbiah is around, or any ghost for that matter, you will be able to smell something,” he says.
But Rizuwan’s intention is not to tell a ghost story.
“I’m using ghost stories to tell a broader story. What we want to explore through this play are women’s issues, abuse of women by their partners and misuse of power. It’s actually a crime story here.”
Fragrance features three other characters, namely the murderer Saderi, a former reporter and a university student, all of whom will be played by Wee.
Wee admits that it is a challenge to find the right voice and personality for all four characters, especially the male characters.
“I had to learn how to speak northern Malay. That was tough. So I picked it up from my Penang friends and Grab drivers. I even watched old Ali Setan movies (about students in USM) to see how they talked,” shares the Sarawak-born Wee, whose stage works include Atomic Jaya (2018) and Are You Game, Sau(dara)?(2019).
Fragrance (Wangian) will be staged at Kotak, Five Arts Centre, 27 Lorong Datuk Sulaiman 7, Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur from April 18-21. Showtimes are 8.30pm (April 18-21), and 3.30pm (April 21). Tickets: RM35 and RM20 (concession). Email: email@example.com. Call 018-202 8827. FB: Five Arts Centre.