Tackling taboo subjects: ‘Tales from the Scars’ director Fa Abdul on storytelling’s vital role in Malaysia

Tan Mei Zi
(From left) Actors Chacko Vadaketh, Sharmila Kana, and director Fa Abdul will be joining their creative forces for ‘Tales from the Scars.’ — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — Storytelling can be a powerful tool to tap into the universal struggles that tie us all together, no matter what race, gender, or religion we belong to.

This sentiment holds true with director Fa Abdul’s latest play, Tales from the Scars, a collection of 10 monologues that touch on provocative yet ordinary narratives that any Malaysian can relate to.

Tales from the Scars first debuted in Penang one year ago to sold-out crowds and will be staged in Kuala Lumpur at Pentas 2, The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) from August 16 to August 18.

From the struggle to reconcile religion with the pursuit of happiness to the guilt of a widower who seeks new sexual relationships, Tales from the Scars peels back the scabs that cover up difficult and sometimes traumatic experiences that aren’t often acknowledged in conservative cultures.

“I wanted to write about issues that are very commonplace. I don’t want to showcase something sensational but I want to stage something that the audience can relate to easily,” she told Malay Mail.

“The actors onstage should be like mirrors that reflect the audience and what they’re going through.”

By touching on issues such as mandatory conversion and racism, Fa hopes that Tales from the Scars can move audiences to see the struggles of their fellow countrymen with a renewed sense of clarity.

“Malaysian society is lacking in empathy. We’re always thinking about ourselves and focusing too much on our own thoughts and stances.

“We usually fail to look at other people and understand what they’re going through on their personal journeys.”

She added that monologues in Tales from the Scars break that pattern and posed important questions that prompt audiences to see the struggles of others.

Following rave reviews from theatre buffs in Penang last year, 'Tales from the Scars' will be making its Kuala Lumpur debut this weekend. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Many may recognise Fa as the director behind the controversial play Sex in Georgetown City, which was canceled after its opening performance in Penang earlier this year following public backlash and misunderstanding over its title.

In her directorial comeback, the playwright continues to advocate for safe spaces to discuss tough topics in the arts scene.

“We want to indulge people in conversations about things that matter and as long as we deny them that, we are not doing any favours for ourselves.

“Our opinions may differ but we should still be able to converse about things and respect each other’s thoughts. Without freedom of speech, we won’t be able to develop as a society.”

Real life experiences

Actor Chacko Vadaketh, whose monologue in Tales from the Scars deals with themes of sexuality, grief, and loss, agreed that it’s easy for Malaysians to shut down conversations on taboo subjects.

“As an actor, I’ve always been interested in ideas concerning sexuality and that’s something I think Malaysians often end up sweeping under the carpet, especially when it comes to widows and older people whose sexual needs we tend to dismiss.

“Even though I’ve never personally gone through an experience like this, I can identify with it in the sense that I know people who are going through a similar situation.”

The play consists of 10 monologues that give voice to traumatic experiences that intersect with contentious issues such as racism, grief, and religion. — Image courtesy of Fa Abdul

For actor Sharmila Kana, her own experiences of living abroad as a practicing Anglican Christian helped her find footing within a monologue revolving around a woman’s personal sacrifices due to religious pressure.

“There’s a huge rift between Anglican churches in the West and Asia, particularly those in Southeast Asia when it comes to certain issues including having a women’s clergy, a gay clergy, and same-sex marriage.

“Having been exposed to both practices, the character that I play — who had to give up her pursuit of love and happiness in the name of religion — really resonates with me.

“I can’t directly relate with the experience but I can understand how it portrays the sad reality of the world we live in today where conservative culture informs religious practices.

“I can see every Malaysian relating to this and we should all be asking what role religion plays in dictating the happiness of an individual.”

Tickets are priced at RM45. For more information, visit klpac’s official website.

Related Articles Muslim groups’ no love for George Town play forces cancellation Protesters fail to stop sold-out ‘Love in Georgetown City’ play Penang PAS demands cancellation of ‘Love in Georgetown City’