Play offers glimpse into the history of Malaya

The encounter between a Communist central party commander and an Indian rubber estate medical dresser near a wooden bridge provides the prelude for the theatrical performance, “At A Plank Bridge”, held at the WOU main campus.

The two characters were convincingly portrayed by WOU’s very own Lim Yao-han as Fook Leong, and The Sun northern region bureau chief Himanshu Bhatt as Chandran.

Yao-han and Himanshu in action.

Yao-han and Himanshu in action.

The story unfolds with Fook Leong, a resistance fighter in the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), on his way to Singapore riding a bicycle when he literally bumps into Chandran, who’s pulling a bullock cart laden with gunny sacks.

As the duo exchange words at the plank bridge over a river along a rural road in Perak, each other’s personal histories and their reason for heading south to Singapore are revealed.

Fook Leong threatens Chandran.

Fook Leong threatens Chandran.

It is clear Fook Leong has grand plans to arrive in Singapore before the British, rally all the locals together to rise up, and to declare Malaya independent following the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945.

Chandran, an ex-Japanese Death Railway Camp worker in Thailand, meanwhile hopes to join his wife and kids in Singapore. He has hijacked a Japanese lorry to return to the Taylor rubber estate where he was formerly employed. He packs his important documents from the estate into gunny sacks and loads them onto his bullock cart; his prized possessions as they contain the medical records and deaths of the estate workers. His design is to turn over the records to the British in Singapore to be historically preserved.

Chandran looks bewildered as Fook Leong lies dead.

Chandran looks bewildered as Fook Leong lies dead.

The drama concludes on a tragic note - the sound and headlights of an approaching Japanese lorry, before gunfire erupts and Fook Leong falls down dead on the cart.

The play composed by Kannan Menon was staged for the first time in Malaysia by theatre group Cape Poetics as part of the Art International Penang festival to commemorate the first anniversary of George Town’s listing as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The theatre performance directed by Jayaram Menon follows a highly successful off-Broadway staging of the play in New York in January 2003.

Kannan Menon (2nd from left), director Jayaram (centre) and Yao-han (right).

Kannan Menon (2nd from left), director Jayaram (centre) and Yao-han (right).

About 200 people attended the performance at WOU – among them were WOU Vice Chancellor Tan Sri Emeritus Prof Gajaraj Dhanarajan and Puan Sri Sue, Penang Heritage Trust president Dr Choong Sim Poey and playwright Kannan Menon.

Prof Dhanarajan and wife, Puan Sri Sue, at the play.

Prof Dhanarajan and wife, Puan Sri Sue, at the play.