SINGAPORE — From television shows such as Grimm to movies such as Maleficent, revisionist takes on fairytales and folktales have been popular of late. The same goes for the popular Malaysian and Indonesian stories about that crafty creature known as Sang Kancil.
Unlike the tales of yore, in the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival production The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil, the popular mousedeer is now a female — and undergoing a midlife crisis of sorts on her birthday.
Presented by new collective Zeugma as a ‘live’ performance-meets-multimedia visual-and-sound onslaught, playwright Zulfadli Rashid revisits the well-known lighthearted exploits of the cheeky Sang Kancil, as she outwits her mostly larger forest neighbours who also pop up onstage, from the monkey, carabao and elephant to the crocodile, tiger and snail (incidentally the only one to have outwitted her, albeit unintentionally).
But this show takes it a step further, with the mousedeer now confronted by more formidable opponents: “Metal beasts” or construction machines encroaching on the animals’ bubble of a forest in the name of development. In an instant, the intelligent Kancil is caught in a moral dilemma and pays the price for being way too smart for her own good, unable to use her smarts when it’s needed the most.
In a deceptively simplistic way, Zulfadli turns the character on her head, as the very lessons and ideals personified by the mousedeer’s adventures are likewise subverted. The folktales’ aspirational and inspirational ideas of someone small beating the big guys by out-thinking them runs into a wall as our small and now-flustered hero is helpless against what is, in their simple world, unthinking machines.
While the premise behind the popular folktale’s makeover is certainly interesting, the manner of staging, combining an actor and multimedia, has mixed results. On one hand, you had Gloria Tan’s hectic, virtuosic performance of multiple characters — mischievous as Kancil one moment, menacing as Buaya the next. On the other, you had the endless possibilities (and the somewhat inherent detachedness) of the multimedia elements. The two strategies — both interesting in their own right — don’t completely dovetail, and it could be confusing trying to figure out who’s speaking what.
Music duo NADA perform behind screens. Singer-actor Rizman Putra, who also directs, offers anecdotal song-commentaries in his role as omniscient storyteller – in a nod, perhaps, to the radio storytellers of old; while partner Safuan Johari provides the soundscapes and retro-tinged tunes. Meanwhile, the duo’s frequent collaborator Brandon Tay splashes hypnotic images on said screens, ranging from more modern body projection-mapping techniques to old-school 8-bit computer game sequences to bring the characters to life. In a nod to the 1980s TV cartoon show Hikayat Sang Kancil (The Chronicles Of Sang Kancil), some footage from that series is also used.
While elements of The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil don’t completely add up, there is nevertheless something poignant and tragic in this folktale reimagined for contemporary times. As machines invade the forest and Tay’s occasional technicolour visuals assault the predominantly black and white images onscreen, we witness an end to innocence as characters from childhood leap out of the pages and TV screens, and into a more complex world.
The Chronicles of One and Zero: Kancil is sold out. For more info on the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, visit http://www.singaporefringe.com.