Sunday, April 25, 2004

A Man For All Seasons - a play for all seasons, indeed

A Man For All Seasons

Written by playwright Robert Bolt (1924-1995), A Man for All Seasons shows a man sacrificing high office, his position in society, and ultimately his life, for religious principle. Dramatising the conflict between Henry VIII and Moore, the play depicts the confrontation between church and state, theology and politics, absolute power and individual freedom. Throughout the play, Sir Thomas Moore’s eloquence and endurance, his purity, saintliness and tenacity in the face of ever growing threats to his beliefs and family, earn him the status as one of modern drama’s greatest tragic heroes.

The play was first produced here by The Actors Studio in 1991, at the Old Town Hall, with Leslie Dawson as Sir Thomas More and Mano Maniam as the King. Patrick Teoh played Cardinal Wolsey (a maiden outing for Patrick as an actor), Eric Roslee as the Common Man, Kee Thuan Chye as Cromwell, Gail Lyons as Alice More, Tiara Jaquelina as Meg, the daughter and Ramli Hassan as Signor Chapuys. Faridah & Joe often remember that this was the first TAS production that broke even!

Starring Ari Ratos (Thomas More), Zahim Albakri (Cromwell), Susan Lankester (Alice More), Kurt Crocker (Norfolk), Kubhaer Jethwani (the Common Man), Fahmi Fadzil (Richard Rich), Ben Tan (Wolsey), Reza Zainal Abidin (Signor Chapuys), Kennedy John Michael (Cranmer), Sharifah Aleya Al-Yahya (Margaret More), Malik Taufik (William Roper), Keith Chin (Chapuy’s attendant) and Bregitta Wong (the Woman). Directed by Joe Hasham & produced by Faridah Merican.


Read Kathy Rowland's review at Kakiseni here.


Would you be strong and willful enough to stand by what you believe in, to remain upholding your conscience and to refuse the temptation to give in no matter in what form does temptation take; if in doing so would take you away from all your daily comforts, separate you from the family that you so dearly love, rip off the normalcy of your everyday being and ultimately, be the cause of your very own death? Will you ever submit?

Not William Wallace in Braveheart nor Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator, and not Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. And just like Sir William, Sir Thomas’ story is for real, based on the great man who brought us Utopia (1516) , the former Lord Chancellor (1529-1532) of England who simply refused to sell his soul even if it means all of the above.

The play became the second to put me to tears (the first was The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde), and the first to do it more than once! (I'm positive that I wasn't the only one sniffling during the scene in the prison though). It was also at times like a mini history lesson in itself, bringing substance and life to the likes of Moore, Cromwell and King Henry VIII (Old joke: You mean they tried seven times before and still couldn’t get him right?) that were previously just some names I’ve heard about or read somewhere.

I've seen Ari Ratos in a couple of other performances, and his acting skills have been lauded here and there – Seasons is his strongest performance I’ve seen so far. He cut a very credible More - steadfast in his righteousness, ever so humble in the face of praise, and strongly resolute in the despondency of his imprisonment. The great Jit came onstage for a measly twenty minutes or so, but enough to illustrate how un’king’ly self-serving and rudely, appallingly debauched the King was. The part may have required him to appear in just a single scene, but boy did he capture the audience right from the first shrill blow of his whistle to the last glimpse of his back before he slams the door, hard, during his exit. And so successful Zahim Albakri was at playing the vile, contempt-spewing Cromwell (urgh) that I almost stood up and cheered when it was recited that he (Cromwell, not Zahim) also died under less-than-pretty circumstances some years later.

For a maiden theatre outing (correct me if I’m wrong), the ever cute and perky Sharifah Aleya was convincing enough as the dutiful, educated daughter, but I feel that there's room for more depth in the emotions that she could have portrayed as Margaret . Susan Lankaster however paraded an excellent performance as the dutiful wife, befitting her experience as a seasoned actress. I also adored Kubhaer Jethwani as the Common Man who transformed flawlessly from one character into another at the shrug of a shoulder or the drop of a prop. Fahmi Fadzil seemed to take some time before being completely at ease with playing the gullible and spineless young Richard Rich, all-eager to please others as long as it benefits him, seemingly devoid of any form of conscience.

The opening minutes went at a rather ‘leisurely’ pace, with some ‘introductions’ and chatter establishing who’s who where what and so on. Even so, being one not all that accustomed to a detailed history of the British, it still took awhile for the basics of it to sink in properly with yours truly (I was just being plain easily-muddled me). The choice of costumes didn’t really help in that sense either. Expecting them to be garbed in quaint and (perhaps?) superfluous period-styled outfits (circa 16th century of course) with all the frills and bows and robes (how could the ruler of England be without the customary fur-adorned royal robe?), the use of normal everyday clothes (along the likes one would be apt to see people wear on the streets of Bangsar or chilling the night out in uptown KL) was kind of surprising during the initial moments. Then I realized that in such a way, the play was actually bringing its points closer to home for despite being written based on something that happened hundreds of years ago, the portrayals of faith, belief, ego, pride, deceit, slyness, family love, pity, enticement, self-righteousness et. al. apply to the present just as well.

In short, A Man For All Seasons exuded its charm so well over me with the combination of a great piece of writing, an excellently-experienced director and a team of cast with superb acting. Throw into the mixture a set that's beautiful and cleverly functional without being complicated, with some haunting hymn-like tunes (made me feel as if I was in a church at times) and the sombrely effectual lighting- this is a show that I definitely wouldn't mind seeing again. Kudos to everyone involved!

My only grouse would be the sickening attitude of several members of the audience who despite their better judgement neglected to switch off (or at least put to vibrate lah, kan) their various polyphonic cellphones, resulting in a multitude of irritatingly distracting tunes throughout the show - a couple even came from the same phone, for God's sake! Oh, and also the fact that Jit was onstage for a mere twenty minutes.


1) Sir Thomas More was one of the first famous prisoners at the Tower of London, executed in 1535 for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the English Church.

2) He was soon followed by a still more famous prisoner and victim, the King's second wife Anne Boleyn, executed a little under a year later.

3) July 1540 saw the execution of Thomas Cromwell - in which capacity as the Earl of Essex and chief minister of England had modernized the Tower's defenses and, ironically enough, sent many others to their deaths on the same spot.

4) King Henry VIII had six wives altogether during his lifetime.

Also read: The Life of Sir Thomas More

No comments: