Halfway through Serangan Zombi Pertama di Malaysia is a segment titled “Emptiness”; in it, female lead Sandee Chew (playing bakery salesgirl, blogger, and zombie-apocalypse survivor Salmon Chen) lapses into interpretive dance: she begins stretching and doing ballet moves around a table. A car alarm blares throughout.
Sitting through it felt like forever. At the end of it, someone in the audience shouted: “Tak faham!”
After the show, co-director Ayam Fared — who created the aforementioned scene — explained his rationale. “It is like living in this country: it is painful,” Ayam said. “I want to see how much the audience can stand it.” It’s a simple enough metaphor: Malaysia is an endurance test; we are forced to live in a zombified state. But testing an audience’s capacity for suffering, for no other reason — that’s a little juvenile. The gimmick isn’t as clever as it seems.
Sadly, Ayam’s bits were the most conceptually inquisitive parts of Serangan Zombi Pertama di Malaysia — a two-hour work that, with three different directors interpreting texts from three different playwrights, felt cobbled together and collegiate.
The more traditionally theatrical, dialogue-driven scenes involve Salmon and risk-adverse physics nerd Ma’an (played by performer/writer Redza Minhat) trapped in an office pantry. The big debate? Whether they should leave their safe haven, brave the undead-infested streets, and travel on to Langkawi, a supposedly “Zombie Free Zone”. Eventually, Ma’an comes to the predictable conclusion that he can’t live his life like a routine-obsessed zombie, and takes a chance.
That’s paltry stuff. The zombie genre has been pregnant with socio-economic commentary since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, dealing with runaway consumerism, the concept of the Other, and Hobbesian ideas of government. Serangan Zombi Pertama di Malaysia was an opportunity for incisive observations about the Malaysian state of being. Unfortunately, it doesn’t dive below surface-level moaning.
Serangan Zombi Pertama di Malaysia was staged under The Actors Studio’s Teater Rakyat programme, at KLPac from 24 to 28 November 2010. Directed by Megat Sharizal, Yusman Mokhtar and Ayam Fared.
This review was originally published for The Selangor Times.
Zedeck Siew is currently a journalist with analytical news website The Nut Graph, where he writes about Issues. He wrote for, and briefly edited, online culture diary Kakiseni, back when it was still running features and criticism. He also engages in fictions.
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