OZASIA – Parah – Her Majesty’s – 3.5K

413x264_OzAsia2013By Peter Maddern

For more than 20 years, the Instant Café Theatre Company has fought the good fight against the inherent racism of the ruling Malaysian Government, hitting back after major newspapers were closed down and stepping forth when a climate of fear has prevailed. In response the Government has sometimes seen the ICTC as a threat, then as a spokesperson for its ‘enlightened’ views, depending somewhat on its own level comfort.

Parah is a story about race and exploitation of division for political gain. While written in 2011, it is performed at this year’s OzAsia festival in the backdrop of the recent Malaysian elections where the ruling party was returned but with a diminished majority and its rhetoric of ‘1Malaysia’ was shown up to be somewhat empty when on election night the Prime Minister attributed his less than desired result to the ‘Chinese tsunami’.

Four junior school children happily co-habit before, perhaps as children do, they start to taunt and gang up on each other depending on the perceived weaknesses or abnormalities of one of them. But here, the ribbing takes place in the context of a controversial text they are studying at school, written by a supposedly esteemed laureate, that calls Indians ‘parahs’ or pariahs and also demeans the role of Chinese in Malaysian society. Rather than take it lying down, Indian, Mahesh (Branavan Aruljothi) joins forces with other Indian students of his class in the protest and relays his unhappiness at home to the scorn of his friends. After that the motivations and histories of all four cast members come out with, at times, ugly results.

Parah is a hard hitting and demanding piece of theatre. Non Malay’s will take a while to settle into the use of sur-titles and thus get into the rhythm but the intensity felt by the players as they deliver their own monologues of angst is not lost in the translation. Iedil Putra as Hafiz especially draws deeply to deal with his history, where the humanity of others races comes to save his day when is own folk abandon him.

For Australians, where the continual trials and tribulations of Anwar Ibrahim are about as close as we get to seeing the internal difficulties of our northern neighbour, it makes you reflect on the society we have, especially in the wake of our own general election. Maybe multi-cultural countries are always destined to create stoushes like these but ruling or, even better, leadership can go a long way to resolving the differences believed to exist in favour of a harmony that can be developed through younger generations who always start with a clean view of the world.

Parah is strong and brave political theatre and the performances of all the cast ensure its messages are well delivered wherever the production may play.

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