Review: Found in Translation

CUMaS (Cambridge University Malaysian Society)’s recent production, Found in Translation, was advertised as a celebration of Malaysian identity and culture. The play can be best summarised by a quote from one of the protagonists – “sometimes, you aim for the stars and land on the ground. But just think about how far we’ve come and where we would have been if we hadn’t even started”.

The play begins with a display by the University’s Lion Dance Troupe in celebration of Chinese New Year. It is a unique beginning and a true celebration of one aspect of Malaysian culture. The introduction of the characters shortly after, however, is a bit of downgrade.  

The play’s lead protagonist is Alex (Austin Tang), “a first year engineer with big dreams and an idealistic heart” – the leading male, a little goofy but loved by everyone. Soon after, he meets Zulaika (Xahra Ashraf) - a first year lawyer with “quick wits and sass”. Over the course of the play, the two fall in love. Their team also consists of Juliana (a “bubbly, cheerful and light-hearted fresher”) and Kian (a silly and “happy go lucky Compsci”). The characters are archetypical and as though taken from a generic American rom-com. Oftentimes, they tread on dangerous stereotypes – with a gay character (“The Investor” (Hazriq Justin Lim)) being portrayed as overly feminine and sexual. Given that the play was put on by amateurs, however, I think that many of these flaws were not intentional but simply things that were overlooked. Overall, the characters are entertaining, but nothing too spectacular or accurate.

Over the course of the play, the team of four devise a “universal translator” to gap the divide between countries – language is portrayed as the key source of international conflict. It is obvious that not much thought has gone into the philosophy behind this. Rather, the translator is used as a means by which the characters express their identities and unique personalities.

The most memorable part of the play, for me, was when Alex and Zulaika go on a walk and talk about culture and conflicts of identity– “that’s just the struggle of being a third culture kid; a bit too foreign for here and a bit too foreign for home”. I believe that this one conversation encapsulated much of what the play was trying to do as a whole. If instead of the gaudy focus on the universal translator, there had been more of an exploration of such conflicts, I believe that the play would have been much more cohesive and impactful.

At random occasions in the play, a troupe would enter and break into dance. Albeit interesting, these performances were rather abrupt and unexplained. Kudos to the dancers, though, who were obviously enjoying themselves and putting on a good show. One of the dance sequences, however, appeared to be a pretentious reconstruction of Bollywood dance, with the dancers bobbing their heads from side to side and joining their hands together. For a play that was trying to explore the complexities of culture and identity, this oversimplification of an aspect of Indian culture seemed a bit hypocritical.

Overall, the play was just a few students trying to grapple with their identity and have fun. So hats off to the committee for trying their best and obviously having a good time; for an amateur performance, not too bad!


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