Can truth be found in fiction? Instant Café Theatre Company explores this in its latest production.
HE lost his kingdom. Just like that, he lost it all. If he had a horse, he would have echoed those famous words of Richard III, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” But all he had was a hippo and it was not just any other hippo in the land. It was his favourite one. And he had to bid it adieu.
On the other side of the world, another man was about to lose something too … his life. And all he was leaving behind were his flee-infested dogs. His family members were utterly puzzled as to the welfare of the canines and were even more bedevilled when he decides to make one final pilgrimage.
One may wonder, and one would be right to do so, if these tales are actual anecdotes or merely plucked from the tree of myths and legends. After all, which man has a hippo for a friend? But as soon as such a thought is entertained, a fact emerges.
Fairytales sound both anecdotal and mythical but they are based on actual events and real people. Portions of the story may be fantastical but the truths explored are as true to life as the blooming lily. “We think of fiction as something that is not true but in fact fiction can tell us truths that facts cannot,” explained thespian, writer and director Jo Kukathas.
And that is exactly the element explored by Kukathas in Instant Café Theatre Company’s (ICT), Almost True Stories (ATS) Vol 1.
Written by Kukathas under the auspices of ICT’s latest writing platform, ATS consists of two tales, The Morning After and Going To The Dogs (the two stories mentioned above, respectively) and essentially seeks to “challenge the writer and audience as to the meaning of ‘almost true,’” said Kukathas.
She added, “We also want to encourage people to write things that work on symbolic or metaphoric levels, to plunder our own stories which are ‘true’ for their deeper truths and to fictionalise them so that we can discover through the telling of the tale something about ourselves.
“Moby Dick is a big story about a man who tries to hunt a whale but it is no mere whale but a whale of mythic proportions. I hope eventually we create such stories here. We have them in our traditional tales but our contemporary stories lack the structure and resonance of myth. I think every society needs its myths.”
Kukathas shared that Malaysia, post-elections, was the basis of The Morning After and confessed that she had no desire to write something overtly political.
“So I began to think about what it must be like for a man to lose power. And then I began to dream the man – who he was, what he loved, what he wanted, where things went wrong for him and a story about this man began to emerge.
“The second piece Going To The Dogs is part of a series of stories I have been writing for some years with no thought of putting them on stage. But I became interested in the idea of how to stage these pieces – how to tell these stories and what sharing such a story could mean,” she explained.
Referring to the writing itself, Ghafir Akbar, who has collaborated with Kukathas in various ICT projects many years ago and recently in the Kakiseni International Artists Exchange, finds that there is much to be mined in Kukathas’ writing.
“She chooses words very carefully and very deliberately. She presents images purposefully and when they come together, you as an audience get a greater sense of the life, the world, and the characters – and will be glad you came along on the journey,” Ghafir opined.
The actor also shared that Kukathas, who will be directing him in The Morning After, runs along with him on his crazy ideas only to show later the wrong turn that he took.
“Other times we would leap together and hope there’s a net to catch us. In that spirit I think we’ve been able to make some great breakthroughs in rehearsal. It has also been great to have the playwright in the room while you’re working through the text.”
Kukathas, who will be directed by Ghafir in Going To The Dogs, said that the challenge and the discovery for her, together with Ghafir and dramaturg Amsalam Doaraisingam, was to discover why this particular story is being told.
“That is what makes this piece in a particular a ‘work in progress’ and we invite audiences on this journey with us and hope it will be a discovery for them too,” she expressed.
And ultimately, that is the end goal of any theatre-going. A journey of discoveries. And in this first volume of ATS, one may not only discover illuminating truths along the way but if one is fortunate enough, one may discover one’s self.
Why should you watch this? Both Kukathas and Ghafir quipped: “We’ll quote from our own press release, ‘Why do we need stories? Because every story is simply another voice saying this is what it means to be human.’”
> Almost True Stories Vol 1 will be performed at Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, Off Jalan Ipoh) from Nov 20 to Nov 22 at 8.30pm and Nov 23 to Nov 24 at 3pm & 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at RM38 and RM 48. To purchase tickets, call 03-4047 9000. Browse: www.ticketpro.com.my.