From suicide to sexual harassment, local production company, Medley House Productions takes on difficult and taboo topics to the stage.

The first play Medley House did was “When Does Love End;” back in 2019, touching on the sensitive and complex subject of suicide.

The production’s main aim with the play was to highlight and raise awareness on the issue of suicide within the context of the Bruneian household and tackling the stigma that lingers on the subject matter. 

Image: Courtesy of Medley House Prdosuctions

The two-act play addresses the many factors contributing to an individual claiming their own lives set against the backdrop of a society that believes suicide is led by a lack of faith. 

Co-Founder of Medley House, Insan Mardini explained that the play incorporates the social and familial reasoning to suicide, teaching the audience members that suicide is a much-complicated matter than how it is generally perceived.

“We were basically reflecting a mirror on society,” he added.

Danyal Johan and Rayyan Rayn in the play “What the Hell Bill” during Director’s Cut: Take One at Ruang on 31/01/2020. Image: The Bruneian

The first show was sold-out and it marked a major turning point for the homegrown production house. They went on to produce two original stories, ‘To Grow A Garden’ and ‘Director’s Cut: Take One’.

“‘To Grow A Garden’ was also quite challenging for us because it touches on the sensitive subject of sexual harassment and rape,” he shared while adding: “It is a safe stage representation of real abuse stories in Brunei”. 

Image: Courtesy of Medley House Prdosuctions

The semi-realistic play was meant to bring the audience on a journey of exploring the dark corners of society and maneuvering through the harsh realities of abuse.

“It was an interesting experience for us because, during our censorship board review, the panel was like, ‘How are you going to depict the sex and rape scene to the audience?” he said.

Image: Courtesy of Medley House Prdosuctions

“We conveyed it all through the brilliant use of movement in the form of dances and expressive symbolism,” he added. 

During the production, the stage actors would also use cloth, ribbons, props, lights and music to show the audience the harsh truths within the narrative in an approachable manner.

“We used to think that censorship was going to be a challenge for us. The fear of getting rejected or heavily criticised was always at the top of our minds,” he shared.

“But it was only through that first moment (that) we learned censorship had allowed us to push our creative limits far and beyond. Ever since then, we stopped fearing the proverbial knife and embraced it with open, yet cautious, arms,” he further added.

Image: Courtesy of Medley House Prdosuctions

Act One, Scene One

Medley House was founded in 2019 by four friends who have known each other, since joining a performing arts club during their time in Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD).

Insan Mardini, Amirah Herliany, Khoo De Hwa and Fathullah Yasirah Hj Mohd Alias wanted to do more than just be on stage, they wanted to provide a platform for individuals to feel safe when expressing themselves

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

“People have stories, people want to act, people want to perform, and people want to direct, but they don’t have that platform, so we want to be that home for them to learn safely and express as much as they can, so they feel safe to cultivate their ideas,” said Insan.

“When we came together, we each had these different skills from writing to singing, which were a medley of skills, and that’s how the name came about,” said Creative Director of Medley House, Amirah Herliany.

The two elements that are important for Medley House is giving storytellers a safe platform to create, and bring the audiences along to be part of the process.

Image: Courtesy of Medley House Prdosuctions

The production house is more than just about stage manner however as underlined on their coat of arms is the Latin phrase “Pelicula, Theatrum, Perficientur” which is translated as “Picture, Theater and Performance”.

“We did not want to limit ourselves in just performing on stage,” said Amirah. 

“We wanted to show them how we could make a change and raise healthy discussions through different artistic expression,” she added. 

Phoebe Lai in the play “Troubleshoot” during Director’s Cut: Take One at Ruang on 31/01/2020. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

Thinking beyond the four walls

During the two years of Medley House, the group of friends also learned important off-stage life lessons 

“Owning a production company at a young age with no background in business was very challenging. We had to face the financial reality of it,” Amirah shared.

“It took two years full of learning from mistakes and growing from them,” she added.

Image: Courtesy of Medley House Prdosuctions

Perseverance has always been a defining philosophy behind the rising local production house.

“The key to success is also due to the commitment and dedication of every single person on our team,” she said.

While still a budding production house, what the company lacks in resources, they make up for in creative thinking and tenacity

According to Amirah, the biggest challenge for local theatre companies, in general, is looking for a venue and space in Brunei.

“There is no proper stage and audience space unless it is a hall in a school but it is still not enough,” she said adding that the set up would hinder the audiences’ experience due to poor seating or a visible backstage and props. 

Image: Courtesy of Medley House Prdosuctions

Traditionally, Medley House performs shows indoors, but recently the group decided to take the theatrical experience beyond their four walls.

The homegrown company recently collaborated with Heartwrite.co and Whatsneue to host an Immersive History Walk.

“We brought participants around various landmarks around the capital where we explored the history and stories of these spots through interactive theatrical activities meant to make the participants immerse themselves into the stories,” said Insan.

The founders of Medley House all believe the creative scene in the sultanate is changing thanks to a new generation of storytellers from Graffiti artists, independent filmmakers and many more, who are paving the way forward.

“Over the past few years there has been a significant shift in the creative industry,” said Insan, referencing the works of Guerilla Artchitect’s ‘Big Wall’ and the rise of creative media platforms such as Progresif Media. 

“We are now more visible than ever,” Insan added.

Medley House does not dream small. Looking ahead, the founders of the organisation have big plans for their up-and-coming productions and projects.

“We have plenty of events lined up this year. We’re most excited about a website we’re launching really soon where we hope to connect with both customers and other creatives more efficiently,” he added.

Al Nazirul in the play “The Origin of the Solar System” during Director’s Cut: Take One at Ruang on 31/01/2020. Image: The Bruneian

This article was first published on January 23, 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 125

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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