'Good thing sarong kebaya made a comeback'

'Good thing sarong kebaya made a comeback'

Younger people may be donning the traditional Peranakan costume these days, but playright Irene Ong, 61, says more can be done to revive the culture.

Which is why the sixth-generation Bibik and co-owner of True Blue Peranakan restaurant is writing a new play, with a smattering of the traditional patois, so that the language will live on.

Peranakans are Straits-born Chinese and the descendants of early Chinese immigrants and native Malay women. They have their own cuisine and language.

The New Paper on Sunday caught up with Ong and the cast of the upcoming Anak Mak Satu - or My Only Child - last week.

She says: "It is a good thing that the sarong kebaya has made a comeback."

She thinks TV drama The Little Nyonya in 2008 and The Journey: A Voyage last November are possible reasons for the resurgence.

"But the sarong kebaya has been modernised to the extent that many have forgotten how to wear it in the traditional way," Ms Ong says.

She wants to build on the interest so the culture can come alive for the young.

Which is why she decided to use mostly English for the play.

"There are not many who are still 100 per cent Peranakans, who immerse themselves in the culture, or speak the lingo. I hope that through my plays, they will be able to appreciate their heritage," she says.

"I also felt the show should be in English to reach out to all, rather than just the Peranakan community."

The plot revolves around the anxiety a mother goes through just before her son enters national service (NS), especially for Peranakan mothers who tend to be close to their sons.

Says Ong: "Everyone talks about NS. No one talks about the week prior to enlisting. It is a trying time, particularly for Peranakan mothers."

Anak Mak Satu is Ong's third play, staged by Peranakan Siblings, a theatre group set up by herself and her cousin Benjamin Seck.

Though there are concessions to the language used, it still sticks closely to some traditions.

For one, the chorus - by tradition - will have 12 members. They will perform songs written by Baba William Gwee, 80.

And typical of Peranakan plays, the matriarch is played by a man.

Instead of one, there are three cross-dressing actors this time, the oldest being Francis Hogan at 79. He plays Bik Lemak, the nasi lemak queen. The other two are Reggie Ismail, who is the maid servant and Chris Lim, who plays the not-too-bright girl-next-door.

The theatre community has welcomed of the revival of the Peranakan play.

Artistic director of Wild Rice Ivan Heng - who played the fiercely dominating Nonya matriarch Emily Gan in Emily Of Emerald Hill - says new blood in the Peranakan theatre scene will help ignite interests in the culture further.

Agreeing, Ms Nora Samosir, a theatre studies instructor at the National University of Singapore, adds: "The Babas and Nonyas are themselves hybrid-born and they are doing a lot to keep the heritage alive."

Anak Mak Satu will be playing at Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, at 7pm and 8.45pm on Sept 26 and 27. Tickets are available at True Blue Pantry @ The Peranakan Museum or call Angeline at 6440-0449.


This article was first published on Sept 07, 2014.
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