A year-end production by Stagecraft


The message from Elizabeth Louis, principal of Stagecraft, a performing arts school in Johor Bahru, said, “Stagecraft students are staging a good play by David Calcutt.”


Elizabeth Louis, principal of Stagecraft, saying 
a few words at the end of the play's performance

“It’s a private viewing for the parents… to support the students and give them the opportunity to showcase their skills,” she continued.


Elizabeth said that the play’s run time was one hour and 20 minutes and that they were presenting two shows on the same evening.


When she invited me to the 6pm show, she also sent me a poster for the play titled, The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty, designed within a Danger warning sign to a backdrop of a towering pylon.


Our chat ended with her request, “Do let me know if you can make it.”


The poster for the play

I am familiar with Elizabeth and her work at Stagecraft Johor Bahru where students pursue training courses in Speech and Drama, Public Speaking, Communication Skills and Performance Arts and Music, with a presentation to showcase their skills at the end of each academic year.


In fact, I had the privilege to enjoy a number of Stagecraft productions including A Tapestry of Malaysian Stories in 2016, the second edition of A Tapestry of Malaysian Stories in 2017 and in 2019, Lost/Found, a theatre presentation in collaboration with theatrethreesixty, a Kuala Lumpur-based theatre company.


Elizabeth said that this show was part of their year-end production, like a summative assessment where parents get to see the improvements and observe the development of their children’s public speaking skills.


Some 15 students, aged from 14 to 19, from the Speech and Drama course were involved in this show. A number of them have been with Stagecraft since they were little and Elizabeth saw how they have developed their skills which she knows they will value throughout their lives.


Terry Dumpton [Left] with the school bullies

In the Speech and Drama course, students study Drama as well as Public Speaking that aim to help students find their voices and express themselves.


Drama has the ability to help a person express thoughts and emotions in a safe place. They do so by repeating someone else’s story – without feeling too exposed and vulnerable.


Once they have been given the opportunity to do it a few times and was heard and accepted, they then find the confidence to articulate their own thoughts and emotions. With this confidence, they will be on their way to becoming better public speakers.


Physically threatened by bullies
I have always appreciated live performances, so I told Elizabeth that I will be there for their presentation of, The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty.


She promptly replied with friendly advice for me to start early to reach Stagecraft on time as heavy traffic was anticipated in the evenings. I took her advice and started off well in advance but traffic conditions plus the heavy monsoon downpour aggravated the situation outdoors.


As I inched my way along the highway in heavy traffic and intermittent rain, my thoughts wandered to, Humpty Dumpty, a familiar nursery rhyme that I learnt in kindergarten. It goes like this:


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.


Humpty Dumpty is a traditional English nursery rhyme about an egg, first published in England in 1803, and still taught in many preschools in the UK and USA.


Terry's mother responding to questions
by the Police

The aim of this rhyme was to teach children to be aware of heights and to be careful with heights or they may risk a fall which may cause grave damage or even death.


When I rushed into the lobby five minutes after 6pm, I saw parents waiting there and a gentleman – who probably saw ‘late arrival’ written all over my face – gently told me that the show start was delayed because many parents have yet to arrive.


“Whew!” I sighed inwardly with much relieve because I would be very disappointed to miss the start of any event, presentation or show.


Terry's father talking to him at home

When more parents arrived, we were ushered into the hall to take our seats for the students’ performance, staged in their own black-box theatre.


I was pleased that the audience was told that ‘flashback’ scenes will be bathed in red light as it helped the audience to better follow the story as it unfolded.


Even while I was familiar with the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty, I was keen to see how the students will present their performance on, The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty, a play written by David Calcutt in 1999 on the sensitive subject of school bullies.


The school bullies have no mercy for Terry

In summary, the story features a group of bullies – both male and female – who picked on Terry Dumpton, a new boy at the school who was hounded to his tragic end.


In the first scene, we saw how the cruel bullies were quick to nickname their victim, Terry, as Humpty Dumpty because his family name was Dumpton.


In the scene where Terry’s mother was introduced, I was transported to somewhere in old England when she told Terry, “Tea is in the oven.”


Even the female bullies
have no mercy for Terry

This is because the names of meals and mealtimes in Britain and Ireland are unlike what we understand in Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore.


For instance, Tea is a hot drink but it also means the evening meal. The weather in those countries was temperate so cooked food was usually kept warm in the oven.


From 3pm to 4pm, the English may enjoy Afternoon Tea. But in this context, the Tea that Terry’s mother was talking about, means the evening meal or the main meal of the day to eat when they returned home.


His mother gave a clearer picture about their home dynamics when she fumed about being late for work and that his dad was in the pub.


When Terry’s mother discovered that money was missing from her purse, she said, “Pounds,” meaning British Pounds, not Dollars or Ringgit.


Sammy being questioned by the Police

The play kept the audience engaged as it explored a wide range of emotions like fear, pity, guilt and deceit that divided the bullies.


“We killed him!” the bullies admitted when they forced Terry to climb up the towering pylon to retrieve a frisbee – and his fall from that height was fatal.


It was interesting that this emotionally charged play touched on moral issues and prejudices in their community, where neighbours gossiped over cups of tea, the Police questioned and a hardnosed reporter dug for information on the local tragedy to publish in the news.


Whee... there goes the frisbee up to the pylon

Even while the play was set somewhere in England, school bullying is a universal social issue that can happen any where in the world, including Malaysia and Johor.


There were many poignant moments in the play but one that stood out for me was the words Terry’s mother said to make light of the tragic situation – the loss of her child from the reckless actions of school bullies.


She said, “One less breakfast to make,” but we know this barely expresses how a mother deals with the deep loss of a child as she finds ways to carry on.


Sammy, Terry's only friend [Left] and the
school bullies, full of remorse for their actions

I must agree with Elizabeth that David Calcutt wrote a good play and the students did an equally good job in presenting, The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty.


When I shared my comments with Elizabeth, she explained that the students committed to 12 weeks of once-a-week practices of about two to three hours for each practice.


As for Elizabeth, one of the most encouraging moments for her was when a parent who watched the show, told her how shocked he was to see his otherwise very timid daughter, playing the role of a bully.


Stagecraft Johor Bahru is located at Unit 23-01, Level One, Jalan Adda 3/1, Adda Heights, 81100 Johor Baru, Johor. For more info, visit website: stagecraft.com.my


For enquiries, send email to: communicate@stagecraft.com.my

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