According to the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM), Alzheimer’s disease becomes more common as we age, affecting 8.5 per cent of people over the age of 60 in Malaysia.
Individuals living with Alzheimer’s, as well as their families, know all too well how much of a toll it takes on your daily life. Their struggle is what Amberjade Arts’ upcoming production Opium at Closing Time is all about.
Taking inspiration from the 1960’s, Opium surrounds the story of a man who is the sole caretaker of his mother, an Alzheimer’s patient. Writer and director Tarrant Kwok says that this storyline was inspired by his paternal grandmother who had passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2017.
As reported by FMT, the play features historic references to the Malayan Emergency and the 1967 Penang Hartal, which was a protest that incited in response to the devaluation of the Malayan dollar against the British pound sterling and the newly established Malaysian dollar.
Kwok also says that there are some elements that highlight the role of “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.
“In writing about comfort women, I interviewed relatives of my friends who were old enough to remember what they saw,” Kwok said in an interview.
In relation to the title, Kwok says that Opium ties back to the era of when Malaysia was a British colony and farmed the drug until its total ban – something that is barely discussed in our history lessons.
“Instead of talking about the trade as a whole, I chose to portray this on a personal level: how opium consumption affects people – in this case, the protagonist’s parents.”
In true Malaysian fashion, the script itself includes all the dialects known to any local viewer – Hokkien, Hakka, and Bahasa Tanjung, a Penang dialect.
Producer Wendy Wong cautioned that the play may contain triggers for certain individuals as it covers content such as abuse, war crimes, sexual assault, and use of graphic language. As such, it is recommended for those aged 15 and above.
As for the protagonist himself, Chai is played by Samuel Low who also shared some personal sentiments to the story.
“I spent 10 years of my life taking care of my parents: my mother is wheelchair-bound and my father, too, a stroke survivor.
“Although I was very happy to be in the role of a caregiver and my parents tried to make it as easy for me as possible, you still have dreams and things you want to do,” he said in reflection.
“My parents eventually gave me their blessing to relocate from Penang to Kuala Lumpur as they now have another caretaker. That phase of my life made Chai very relatable to me.”
A recipient of the BOH Cameronian grants for new productions, the staging of Opium has been made possible by an allocation of RM10,000.
Opium at Closing Time will be staged at the Black Box, Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Empire Damansara, Petaling Jaya, from 20-30 October. Tickets are priced at RM49, with concession for students, senior citizens, and the differently abled at RM39. To book, click here.
Group booking promo: get one free ticket for every nine purchased, and three free tickets for every 17. For group bookings and enquiries, email [email protected].