Immersive dinner theatre based on the rich cornucopia of Malaysian legends can be hugely popular content for tourismROSE Farida Reyhana steps into the medium-sized ballroom, its 30-foot high walls clad in ceiling-to-floor black drapes. The floor is covered with dried ice clouds. She realises immediately that this is going to be a special experience, a unique presentation of her home state, Sarawak.
The scent of lemongrass and bamboo dew waft by and the rainforest decoration inside causes her to stop walking to draw in the scenery. Towering centrepieces at each table with orchids, pineapple fruits and ferns and huge monstera leaves marking each table setting depict a contrasting concept — the elegance of nature.
The sounds of the rainforest complete the mystical and enchanting ambience. She whispers, “Wow...”
In this ‘Land of the Hornbills’, warriors and princesses mingle with the guests who are automatically designated as villagers of Kampung Pasir Putih and Kampung Pasir Kuning of days gone by.
The night is set for the arrival of the Kahyangan princesses and the dashing Putera Serapi of the Santubong legend.
The night’s theme, “The Enchantment of Santubong”, was conceptualised and executed to perfection by bzBee Consult Sdn Bhd, and it was a project to showcase Sarawak’s culture, sense of adventure, beauty of nature, food and festival as a different dining experience.
The theme surrounds the legend of Puteri Santubong, a Kahyangan princess who descends to Earth with her sister, Puteri Sejinjang. The Dewa King had entrusted them to bring together the warring villagers.
Unfortunately, they both fell in love with the mortal prince Putera Serapi and their bitter quarrel led to Santubong being cursed as the Mountain Santubong.
According to Sarawak Tourism Board chief executive officerSharzede Salleh Askor: “The approach of telling the story of this famous legend through a theatre performance tonight will give an emotional aspect for guests to take back home for a long time to come.
“There are mystical elements in the Princess Santubong legend filled with lessons to draw tourists to visit the mountain, which is not far from Kuching.
“This media night programme is certainly in line with our belief that the approach to tourism should be to provide a life-enhancing experience known as ‘Experiential Tourism’ where the better the experience, the better a destination stands out from others.
“Sarawak has many hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered and it is crucial to share this with the world,” she said.
Malaysia has hundreds of legends, some immortalised in manuscripts of old. Walinong Sari of Pahang, Che Siti Wan Kembang of Kelantan and Putera Chahaya Bulan of the Mek Mulung are some well known legends, which if not popularised on theatre will fade away.
Each state has many legends that represent its history, heritage and hikayat.
Ironically, in the 1960s and 1970s, legendary choreographer Tharuwat Ismail Bakti recalled that Malaysia regularly showcased theatre performances in London, Munich, Tokyo, New York and Sydney.
Today, Malaysian performing heritage has often been limited to dances and songs, a shadow of its full-scale theatrical origin.
The theatre has been our creative outlet for centuries, as seen in Mak Yong, Mek Mulung, bangsawan and wayang kulit.
With this in mind, the concept of immersive dinner theatre based on the rich cornucopia of Malaysian legends can, and given the chance, will become popular content for tourism.
Tourists and visitors of all ages can connect to these legends as they are intrinsic in our psyche, our DNA, our memories — synonymous with our adat and adab. We must find a way to share these legends with the world, through books, storytelling in its many forms, theatre and films included.
Theatre productions are massive projects that require huge funds, involving the widest range of experts, artisans and management.
Such performances will allow the whole industry — tourism, food and beverage, performing arts, costume artisans, singers and musicians — to grow and provide job opportunities.
bzBee managing director Professor Mohd Said Bani C.M. Din said: “The ideation for the immersive dinner theatre was reminiscent of my experience with the late Mustafa Noor in the 1980s, who used to do these in Kuala Lumpur.
“To pull this off, it was truly a project that involved the whole bzBee team, from events and creative to public relations.”
Theatre and dining experiences can definitely be a major draw for tourists to come to Malaysia.
We just have to look at countries driving the tourism industry with theatre like the West End in the United Kingdom, and Broadway in the United States.
Our neighbours treasure the Thai Royal Khon, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and the Ramayana Ballet against the backdrop of the Prambanan Temples in Indonesia, performed by a 200-strong cast outdoors throughout the year when weather permits.
After the show, I asked Rose Farida Reyhana what were her hopes for the Santubong legend. She smiled.
“That the legend of Puteri Santubong will be performed at its birthplace in Santubong, Sarawak — and hopefully, beyond the shores of Malaysia too.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The writer is an award-winning Malaysian author, writer and poet, specialising in Malay Hikayat and Asian legends