Traditional Drama in Malaysia

The source of ancient Malay drama can be traced back to the primitive religious rituals of ancient Malays. In the 14th century AD, shadow puppets began to spread in Malay areas. Malay drama as a comprehensive art was produced in the 1880s. Due to the obstruction of conservative forces, the development of Malay drama was slow. Since the 1950s, Malay drama has made great progress.


Malaysian drama has mainly experienced four stages of development: Bangsawan drama, early stage drama, realist drama and contemporary drama.


Bangsawan Drama

It was originally an Islamic religious sacrificial dance drama introduced from Persia. The subject matter was limited to the story of Islamic prophets and heroes, and later it gradually described history and real life. Around 1870, a Persian Wayang troupe performing plays arrived in Penang. The performance gained a reputation.


bangsawan drama


In 1883, Mamak Bush imitated the Persian Wayang Opera and established the Malayan Wayang Theatre. Based on the local social reality, he imitated the Persian Wayang style and carried out performance activities that mainly reflected the lives of the upper-class figures in society. Because the performance is based on the taste of nobility, it is called Bangsawan (meaning noble drama). It inherits the tradition of folk rap, adopts the screen system, and the actors make up their own lines improvisedly and organize conflicts.


The early Bangsawan plays had a strong primitive religious color, and the content of the plays mostly came from domestic and foreign myths, fables, and historical stories. For example, "Alibaba and the Forty Thieves" and "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp" are popular plays. In the 1930s, Bangsawan dramas began to reflect real life. The themes focused on punishing evil and promoting good and admonishing the world. It became a popular drama in Malay-speaking regions (including Indonesia) before the 1940s.


Famous plays

"Between Two Coffins" premiered in 1935, Johor, depicting the story of pagans being indicted after their marriage and death.


"Who's Blame" was first performed in 1938, Singapore, describing an unfilial son being struck to death by lightning and exposing the evil consequences of enslaving education.


"The Rebellious Son" was first performed in Johor in 1932, depicting a young man who abandoned his wife and continued to marry others, swallowing his family wealth, and finally ended in prison.


Early Stage Drama

After the end of the Second World War, the national liberation movement flourished and the Bangsawan drama gradually declined. Western-educated intellectuals translated Shakespeare's plays, translated drama theories, and put forward the idea of emphasizing contemporary social life.


early stage drama


In the 1930s, Bangsawan Opera was transformed by the Indonesian Theater Company, which eliminated the interspersed performance program, used a stage book, and emphasized the role of the director. The repertoire performed by the troupe in Malaya had an impact on the local theater community, and it was called a "new drama", and the drama came to the fore. The Shakespeare play performed by the school during this period also had a certain impact.


Representative Work

In the early stage, dramas used historical themes to allude to contemporary social life. Shade Alwe Alhadi's "Islamic Hero Tale Bin Zayed" was performed in 1942 and promoted the spirit of Islam. "Malay Hero Hang Tuah" praised national heroism.


In the 1950s, the drama entered its heyday. The work echoes the awakening of the Malay nation, and the representative work are "Water Ghost", "Johor Tiger", and "Tun Sri Lalang". Garam Hamidi's "Children of Magnificence" is considered an excellent drama with originality.


Realistic Drama

After the 1960s, drama completely abandoned the remaining traces of Bangsawan drama in form, focused on the colloquialization of lines, and the stage installations pursued the authenticity of life. Playwrights began to absorb critical realism creation methods, and paid more attention to collecting materials from contemporary social life.


Representative Works

Usman Awang (1928~)'s representative play "Uda and Dara" is a tragedy depicting the innocent love of young men and women, and condemned the feudal system. The one-act play "Guest on Kenny Hill" describes the situation of a senior official who is plagued by various contradictions, exposing various contradictions in real life. His plays "From Stars to Stars" (1965), "Under the Sun" (1969), "Curtain of the Times" (1969), "Red Morning" (1971), etc. concentratedly reflect the achievements of Malay drama creation in the depth and breadth of realism.


Contemporary Drama

When realist drama began to flourish, there were already new experiments in the form of drama. In the 1970s, some playwrights abandoned the tradition of directly reflecting social reality, adopted Western absurd drama performance methods, took humanitarianism as the guiding ideology, deeply reflected people's lonely inner activities, and deliberately created absurd and peculiar stage images. Their plays are called "contemporary play".


contemporary drama


This kind of drama generally does not have a coherent story. It is based on the symbolic performance of the actors on the stage, or the ambiguous plot is displayed by various means of performance, such as singing, dancing, music, shadow puppetry and slide show, which can reflect the relationship between human and god, and human and human.


Representative Works

John Garafar's "Dry Wind" uses the technique of creating a peculiar fantasy mood to express people's desire for happiness and luxurious life. Their work is known as the so-called "top-grade drama" that can only be appreciated by the knowledgeable in society.

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