As the Yuletide season nears, the magical spirit of Christmas is once again upon us. It comes in forms of gifts, decorations and for some of us, lessons of compassion and redemption. For Ebi Monjungkil, maybe a bit of everything. Unyielding and cold as the night of Christmas Eve, he sat in his office working the hours away. Not even the pandemic itself could stop this man from his work. However, on that very night, he had a ghostly visitor in his quiet home in Penampang, Sabah.
Yes, you read that right, Sabah. This is a Malaysian twist on Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol; transporting us through time, memories, and teaching us invaluable lessons we may have forgotten over time.
A Christmas Carol, created by theatrethreesixty with creative efforts from the BOH Cameronian Arts Award-winning creative team, led by Christopher Ling. Featuring original music from Nick Choo, soundscape design by Kirthana Kuhendran, lighting design by Nicxon Tan, and choreography by Kenny Shim. Adapted by Natalie Makulin and Qahar Aqilah, this 90-minute performance features English, Bahasa Malaysia, and Bahasa Kadazan (with English surtitles) for our Malaysian stage.
Hailing from Penampang, Sabah, herself, stage-performer Natalie makes her debut in theatre with A Christmas Carol. Her captivating performance swept everyone off their feet as she plays not one, not two, not three, but 22 different characters in this play!
“As a Sabahan myself, I always look forward to spending Christmas with my family back home. Although there were some years which I celebrated it in the Peninsula, the longing of a familiar togetherness, happiness, and openness are always present in my heart. Christmas in Sabah is truly a 1Malaysia experience. Not just for Christians, but for all”.
Despite stemming from a mass communication background, Natalie has had previous experiences with musical theatre; The Reluctant Saint the Musical in Kuala Lumpur & Singapore (2010) and Euphrasia the Musical in Ipoh, Kota Kinabalu & Kuala Lumpur (2019 & 2020) are just some to name a few. She first met Qahar from their time performing together at Euphrasia the Musical, and Christopher during their tour of the show in Ipoh.
With Qahar and Christopher, they go way back from their time at Rep 21, when Qahar first auditioned for a youth ensemble. “Everything else is history. I have no regrets and I’ve worked with him [Christopher] on several projects over the years. All of them have had different levels of success and it has always been fun”.
Qahar, who plays Malaysia’s very own Ebenezer Scrooge, goes on a journey of self-reflection with the three Ghosts of Christmas “Past, Present and Future” to bring him back onto the road of redemption.
“Every time I read Christmas Carol, the famous phrase, ‘Bah Humbug!’, I can’t help but connect it to Sabah. Of course, the usage of ‘bah’ in Dickens’ is way different than the Sabahan context. Still, it planted the seed in my head”.
For some of us who are unsure what ‘bah’ means, it is a Sabahan colloquial with various meanings depending on how one would use to express. It can be used to show anger or disapproval, a final say that could either be a yes or no, to emphasise a statement, conjunction, or even on its own that means ‘okay’.
Like what ‘bah’ can represent, Sabah is a place filled with such diversity that contributes to our colourful kaleidoscope of cultures for us to learn and appreciate. Apart from their lush green forests and saturated shades of sunsets, Sabah is more than a tropical paradise. It is a place of culture, arts and stories.
“The idea of when we adapt Western material to a local setting, we have a tendency to adapt towards what I call ‘Data Rate Nasi Lemak Malaysiana’ which is a superficial Peninsular Malaysia, you know, lifestyle and culture that supposedly represents all of Malaysia”.
With a clear vision and storytelling in mind, Qahar brought the performance to life.
“The goal of the piece is that when someone watches A Christmas Carol, they will definitely experience [Dickens’] Christmas Carol, but in a Malaysia in which they sort of recognise but may not recognise fully”.
Growing up, Dickens’ Christmas Carol has been a staple during the Christmas season. Whether it's the book or the movie, Christmas isn’t really complete without our yearly reminder of being loving and compassionate towards others. Especially now more than ever, with all that is happening around us.
Just as Christopher describes it to be, “In the same way that Monjungkil gets a second chance to redeem himself and rectify the mistakes that he’s made in his life, I want Malaysians to know that we, too, can have that second chance to make something out of our lives in this pandemic aftermath”.
This 360 performance is generously supported by CENDANA, MyCreative Ventures and PENJANA through the Performing Arts Presentation Funding grant as well as PJPA. Special thanks to the latest updates of MKN Protokol Gelembung Akriviti Seni, A Christmas Carol can now welcome back audiences aged 13 and above when accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult.
If you have yet to catch A Christmas Carol, head over to Onetix to gift yourself, friends and family a holiday treat at Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPAC) from 2nd December 2021 to 12th December 2021.