Now showing at KLPac: 'Norm & Ahmed'
When Alex Buzo's ground-breaking play Norm & Ahmed premiered in Australia in 1968, it inevitably ruffled some feathers in the country that was still in the midst of dismantling its White Australian Policy—a set of policies that aimed to exclude people of non-European origin from emigrating to Australia.
The 50-minute performance depicts a midnight encounter between an Australian blue-collar worker and former Vietnam war veteran, Norm, and a Pakistani student named Ahmed. Taking place at a bus stop on a quiet, deserted street, a casual "Got a light?" turns into a tense conservation laced with racial prejudices. While Norm may appear to be the apparent aggressor and bully, one will find that both characters essentially hold his own set of prejudices and ideas.
After Buzo watched the Malaysian premiere in 1989, he noted: "One of the points made by the play is that Norm finds anything different from his way of thinking an affront. Perhaps in the twenty-first century we won't be so affronted by other perspectives." Fast forward 30 years and it is now 2019. One might have hoped that after so many years racism will be a distant memory, but that is unfortunately not the case, is it? With its powerful themes that revolve around race relations, bigotry, prejudice and discrimination, Norm & Ahmed proves to be an important piece of work that remains as relevant today as it was 30, 50 years ago.
This is one of the reasons behind co-founder of The Actors Studio (TAS) and KLPac, Dato Dr. Faridah Merican's decision to bring back the play. How is Malaysia different in its new era post-GE14? How are we confronting the stereotypes and assumptions we have made about each other in the past? She believes that it is time for Malaysians to face it head on and start a new dawn.
In the Malaysian premiere 30 years ago, Merican's partner in crime and fellow co-founder Joe Hasham directed and performed in the play, playing Norm opposite the late Mustafa Noor's Ahmed. This year, Joe will once again take up the director's role, while award-winning Australian actor Kingsley Judd and local actor Phraveen Arikiah play Norm and Ahmed respectively.
Like the 1989 staging, the show will be preceded by a 30-minute poetry reading and song segment based on the themes of the play.
'Norm & Ahmed' will run in KLPac from 12 to 17 February, before making its way to PenangPac for the weekend of 22 to 24 February. For ticketing and more information, visit the website.