THEATRE – Baling – OzAsia – Nexus – 4K

By Peter Maddern

The independence of Malaya from British rule after World War II is not a story much told or understood in this country. As difficult as the British may have been, the major complication to it all was the Chinese communist insurgency under its leader Chin Peng that had lasted eight years.

Malaysia’s Five Arts Centre brings that story to OzAsia under the title of Baling being the location where the talks by the Chief Minister of Singapore, David Marshall, and the Malayan leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, with Peng took place under an intense national and international focus.

This two hour performance takes us through exchanges between those participants via transcripts of the day with contemporary video and personal additions from each of the three performers. To encourage seeing each party’s perspectives (and maybe also to alleviate bot rot) the audience was required to keep moving their places around the Nexus floor, taking their mats with them with the players also exchanging their roles.

From the details of the debate, the model behaviour of the participants and the demonization of the Communist leader a full picture of the dynamics, then and since was very successfully portrayed by director and creator Mark Teh and his team. Certainly, this reviewer was left pondering the merits of the ideological and personal stances taken by Peng and Malaysia’s subsequent reaction to him.

The performance was nearly marred by an unfortunate few cultural warriors who thought they knew best as they guffawed and sniggered their way through references to such things as the British, the Australian constitution and some of the rhetorical examples used in the cut and thrust of the debate. They were perhaps better suited to expressing their superiority as members of a Q & A audience. When the realities of communist insurgencies of that area after World War II were recounted (Korea, China / Taiwan and later Vietnam) one may not have agreed at the Tunku and Chief Minister’s hard line positions in 1955 (and the role of the British) but they were entirely understandable and, as time has shown, the outcomes have served the Malaysian independence journey pretty well.

As OzAsia is want to do, this production tests an Adelaide audience for its particular subject matter and its alternative form of storytelling. But for anyone interested in the history of our region (and of course those from that area) this was an excellent production, well conceived and thought through and delivered with credibility and respect for the people of the time they represented.

Kryztoff Rating  4K

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