Antares braves the madding crowd at 12SI for some recycled laughs
An Instant Café Theatre performance is not usually something one reviews so much as raves about. No doubt the feisty and indestructible comedy company co-founded and led by Jo Kukathas has had its occasional off-key show and, more than once, has been found guilty of belaboring a point. Nonetheless ICT’s overall contribution to sanity, mental clarity, and public truthfulness in Dr M’s industrially besmogged but “ingat boleh” Malaysia is immeasurable, and must some sunny day be awarded a place of distinction in the Museum of Malaysian Satire (or at least acknowledged with a monumental biography).
ICT’s latest outing at a trendy dance club called Atmosphere (mainstay of the glitzy 12SI entertainment complex) was a mite disappointing to ardent fans but a major revelation to a whole new segment of celebrants hitherto unexposed to their bellyachingly funny, gutsy and therapeutic brand of political satire.
Most of the material was recycled from Millennium Jump and Mass Hysteria (ICT shows from the last two years). The classic ‘Umbrella Girls’ skit worked fine with guest star Joanne Kam Po Po (in her maiden spot with ICT) and the XX-tremely nubile Nell Ng – though it lacked the pep and sparkle of the original version (or maybe the comic impact begins to wear off after you’ve seen it four times).
The highly charged sodomy trial presided over by the unimpeachable Judge Mental Singh Gall (brought to uncanny life by a grotesquely bewigged Jo Kukathas) wherein the unfortunate traffic offender, Encik Baldev (played to pathetic perfection by Manesh Nesaratnam), is brought to Malaysian-style justice, resonated to the very core when first performed in 1999. It was still hilarious this time around but perhaps we’ve seen one sodomy trial too many – and they’ve all been equally assinine… oops, I mean asinine.
Guest of honor YB, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Breaking Records, was invited on stage to poke fun at the Malaysian electorate for voting the likes of himself into public office. At question time, no memorable ones were asked but YB came well prepared with a few unforgettable answers: “Vhy the public unrest? Ve tell them to rest, rest, rest… uddervise ve arrest. Ho ho, ayam a joker, just like the peeyem!”
This leering, sneering Ubuesque deformity with the YB tag is shapeshifter Kukathas at her ugliest and sharpest. No one else can make being a career politician look so unappealing and vulgar. It’s sheer genius in the service of ultimate mediocrity. “Criticize, criticize…” hisses YB, his reptilian claws poised to strike like a pair of deadly cobras. “Criticize is all dose jealous forriners can do!”
And then she magically transforms into the alluring newsreader Wan Zanzi Wan Zanzibar, feeding song cues to Junji, Shanthini, and Maya for their barbed cabaret snippets, stoutly supported by jazz musician David Gomes on sequenced keyboards.
Patrick Teoh’s bulldoggish condo security guard, Khoo Kam Beng, is another durable character who deserves his own sitcom series. Manesh Nesaratnam plays Bacharan, his young sidekick and disciple who eagerly picks up pointers about whom to taruk (harass the upstart Chinese contractor in his Pajero) and whom to tabik (salute the Tan Sri’s influential mistress). Their tightly crafted skit ranks among the best that has emerged from the ICT repertoire. Contributing writers over the years include Kam Raslan, Na’a and Jit Murad, Andrew Leci, Huzir Sulaiman, Harith Iskandar, Puvan Selvanathan, and Jo Kukathas herself, but a great deal of detail is added by the performers themselves.
ICT has a long track record of spotting and roping in the nation’s top talent. Take Indi Nadarajah and Allan Perera, for instance, who started out providing a bit of musical support and ended up as Loga and Singam with their own Comedy Court productions. Recently, sound technician Reshmonu (who moonlights as a club DJ and up-and-coming rap artist with a hit in the charts) was coaxed on stage to play a funky soul brother from Sentul and perform his thambi gangsta rap alongside Manesh. This proved to be a big hit (especially with the women) and went down very well at Atmosphere. It should also help sell a few more copies of his debut album, MonuMental.
Paula Malai Ali made her KL stage debut as Viola in ICT’s Twelfth Night and later graced their regular revues with her glamor-girl-next-door personality. In this instance she made a special guest appearance as Zelda Gratigano-Smythe, an “outrageously artsy fartsy independent foreign film producer trying to get her art film done in Bolehwood.” In competition with her for Malaysian government subsidies and perks is the tough-talking Hongkong movie mogul, Hieronimax Loo, masterfully portrayed by Patrick Teoh. Needless to say, Bolehwood opts for a Bollywood spectacular featuring a hit song and sensational dance number written and performed by Maya Arissa Abdullah (“Kuch Kuch Twin Towers Very High High Hai”).
Another priceless gem is Nell Ng’s cheongsam diva from old Shanghai who dreams of ensnaring a titled bumi entrepreneur, driving a Merc, securing a few lucrative contracts, and playing hostess with the mostest at halal banquets. She lipsynchs exquisitely to a hysterical spoof number (“Wang Bo Liau”) co-written and sung by the amazing Maya Abdullah aka Monita Tan.
The presence of Jit Murad and Zahim Albakri would, of course, have made it a gala night – but ICT has a knack of pulling it off no matter who happens to be in the cast. There are times when one is forced to sit back and ponder the dire possibility that Dr M may one day be forced to retire from the political stage. Come that day, ICT may be hard pressed to maintain its mirthful output, much of which is inspired by his monolithic management style and the sycophantic ethos it has spawned. However, that day seems to lie beyond a receding horizon. And, as any pessimist will gladly inform you, there’s always another clown waiting in the wings for a big break. In which case ICT is likely to go on forever.