OzAsia Festival Review: Baling

A significant time in Malaysia’s history is captured through the unique storytelling composition of Baling, unravelling the events of the 1955 ‘Baling Talks’ for the waiting audience.

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre and Five Arts Centre
Reviewed 31 October 2018

A significant time in Malaysia’s history is captured through the unique storytelling composition of Baling, unravelling the events of the 1955 ‘Baling Talks’ for the waiting audience.

For several years Malaya had been devastated by a revolutionary war until a highly publicised meeting took place that would change the course of Malaysian history. In a small classroom in Northern Malaya, three national leaders came together with the aim to bring the war to an end. Over two days the newly-elected Malayan leader Tunku Abdul Rahman, British colonial officer David Marshall and Communist ‘rebel’ and anti-colonial Chin Peng all engaged in passionate conversation, clashes of will and cunning political manoeuvres. This was all in the attempt to determine how Malaya would transform as it achieved independence from British rule and became Malaysia.

Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party, Chin Peng, is a large focus within the production, with Baling detailing not only his brave stance against the controlling colonials, but also against the manoeuvrings of powerful and popular Abdul Rahman. Labelled a rebel leader, bastard and Enemy No.1 of Malaysia who was wanted dead or alive, Peng was lucky to survive and ended up in Bangkok where he lived out his days as he was not allowed back in his home country.

As Baling cleverly unravels the historic meeting via several mediums, the audience begins to understand the lies and deception that were used to organise a ‘solution’ to the political upheaval. The unique use of parts of the original ‘Baling Talks’ transcripts bring a real-life historic element to the show with conversations re-enacted in a documentary-like style. This is re-enforced with the use of historic videos and images taken before, during and after the significant talks which are presented around the theatre and interacted with by the actors.

Since its formation in 1984, Malaysia’s Five Arts Centre has become a dynamic collective of Malaysian artists and producers who are dedicated to creating alternative art forms within the contemporary arts landscape. Incorporating visual and digital arts as well, it is well known for its cutting-edge performances in theatre, dance, music and youth theatre and has performed its productions worldwide.

Baling steers clear of the traditional stage, instead choosing to utilise almost 360 degrees of the theatre with paper transcripts covering walls in one corner, projector screens filling those opposite and multiple dangling images of Peng hanging in the centre. The audience is placed on the floor and is occasionally asked to shift (changing their perspective) as the actor’s move around what is both the stage and seating for the audience. This livens up the historically drenched topic and is a clever addition to keep the show moving forwards and not stalling.

Although the limited seating and historic topic may put some people off, Baling is a unique performance that presents a significant event in a clever, documentary style combined with audience interactivity. This is a great show for those looking to broaden their knowledge about the formation of Malaysia while also after the enjoyment of good theatre.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Twitter: @Georgie_xox

Rating: 4/5

Venue: Nexus Arts, Lion Arts Centre, Adelaide, 5000
Season: 31 October – 2 November
Duration: 100 mins
Tickets: $30 – $45


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