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Surprises and football inspirations

(Pic by jrankin /

(Pic by jrankin /

YOU know the old adage/cliché, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Here’s a prime example.

In June, I joined a touring group of theatre performers from Perth, Australia to the Temple of Fine Arts in Johor Baru (JB), where we put on a show. Having been to the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur, I was expecting the same: a large, modern, multistorey building capable of housing visiting entourages, with rooms galore for various artistic activities.

The plan was for me to make a quick stop at the Temple of Fine Arts in JB to drop off some equipment before travelling on to Singapore to greet the Aussie group. Being unable to find the venue in JB was the first sign that things weren’t going to meet my expectations. And this wasn’t just because I was in an unfamiliar place, since I had a trusty GPS navigator. No, this was because the venue was situated off the main streets, in rural surroundings; down side roads lined with wooden houses, gerai makanan, shacks, and lallang embankments.

When I finally found the place, I was taken aback. I found myself staring at another wooden house the likes of many I’d driven past, albeit with signage out front welcoming me to the Temple of Fine Arts. It was charming in a rustic way. But this was where the Perth group was to perform? All 20-odd performers? I wondered how we were going to pull this off. Would all of us have to cram into one of the rooms and put on a significantly scaled-down version of the show? What of lights and audio – two vital components in our production?

On top of that, the Temple of Fine Arts has primarily been used for cultural performances, such as Indian classical dance. Would our show, complete with pirates, anthropomorphised animals and Aussie nomenclature, really fit in? With these concerns in mind, I left the venue and continued towards Singapore.

Several days later, I returned with the gang from Perth, wondering if I should voice my thoughts to prepare them for the challenges that we might have to contend with. Imagine my astonishment when we were led to an area behind the wooden house and into a large, renovated space, perhaps the size of half a football field. It had open sides, but it had a roof, concrete floor, a seating area for the audience, and makeshift dressing rooms off to one side. It also had – lo and behold – sound and lighting equipment: amplifiers, rigs and all! It was, to be sure, a performance space, and a well-equipped one at that.

Australian team watching an Indian classical dance performance by members of TFA in JB

The Aussie team watching an Indian classical dance performance by members of the Temple of Fine Arts in JB (Pic by Nick Choo)

So we put on our show in this wonderful space, and had a great time doing it. We played to a small audience of grown-ups and children, who thoroughly enjoyed the performance and were pleased to see a different type of show than they were accustomed to in that space.

Later, the Australian crew shared with me how they found it a bit of a culture shock to be there, in such remote settings, spending time with the Indian Malaysians who were Temple of Fine Arts members, and learning about their values and practices. I had to tell them that I’d initially experienced a bit of a culture shock, too – but oftentimes, these so-called “shocks” can leave you more than pleasantly surprised.


On a totally irrelevant but timely note, the World Cup is upon us, and it’s interesting to see the creative endeavours inspired by the game. One local project is Gol?, the brainchild of former The Nut Graph (TNG) contributors Amir Muhammad and Danny Lim. Gol? is a compilation of World Cup stories by nine Malaysian writers, including TNG alum Zedeck Siew and contributors Fahmi Fadzil and Tricia Yeoh, as they cover all 64 matches. Each day, a new story is uploaded to the website. Definitely worth a look.

We’ve already mentioned how rapper Wee Meng Chee, a.k.a. Namewee, has made headlines again with his latest music video Handicap Gol, which takes digs at the World Cup and football fever in Malaysia. Watch the controversial video here.

On an international level, the Johannesburg Civic Theatre company in South Africa has premiered a new production of UK composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Boys in the Photograph, timed to coincide with the World Cup. Originally titled The Beautiful Game, the musical is set in Ireland and tells of a young football team dreaming of making it big against the backdrop of the Irish Troubles.

Check out the following video clip from a Hungarian production of The Beautiful Game. I bet you’ve never seen a football match like this before!

Nick Choo is taking an indefinite break from Merely Playing. Thanks for reading!

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