Songs from the Jiwang Kingdom: a review

If you haven’t heard of Mia Palencia, it’s a damn shame.

This Sabahan singer-songwriter has a voice that sounds like honey would if it could sing, sweet yet as strong and full-bodied as a good brew of Arabica coffee.

She’s a jazz crooner as well as an acoustic folk songstress and though I love hearing her do jazz standards, her original songs are still my favourites.

Mia launched her second album a couple weeks back, a mix of tunes called Songs from the Jiwang Kingdom. Though I liked her first album Finding My Way, her sophomore album is so much stronger lyric-wise and its stripped down simplicity is something I find really appealing. In these times where there’s too much overproduction, her simple, soothing arrangements are balm for tired ears.

Her first single, Adam’s Anthem, is currently playing on the airwaves and it’s a fun, folksy tune. But it’s not a schmaltzy ‘tribute’ to her partner, but an honest examination of the insecurities that often plague us especially when it comes to love.

"But you will never know how hard I try, to be the dream you think I am."

The next song, Call Waiting, is a rather humourous song about relationship troubles. Ever known what it’s like to desperately wait for your irate other half to pick up the phone, just so you could apologise and smoothen troubled waters? "Pick up the phone, baby, please don’t miss my call again." It’s the kind of song you could have fun sing along to or, if you’re so inclined, sing outside your lover’s door in the hopes they open it.

(Here’s Mia performing the song with Reza Salleh. I had to stop swooning at listening to Reza. It’s so hard not to want to have his babies)

Mia, if you’ve watched her perform live, has quite the sense of humour and it comes across in her songs. Another hilarious piece is the song Biru about a clueless would-be lover.

If you’re in the mood for something more soothing, The Tender Hour is a dreamy piece about that quiet stillness of midnight. The lovelorn would find some measure of solace in her song about unrequited love, Strong Enough.

There really aren’t any ‘filler’ songs on this album and it’s interesting to see Mia infuse some veiled social commentary in the song Smokescreen. The subtlety of the lyrics are far more effective than a full-on protest song, asking more questions of the listener than pretending to answer them. I suppose it’s a sign of Mia’s growing maturity as a lyricists.

If you want easy listening with a bit more lyrical bite, Mia Palencia’s second album is obviously a carefully crafted set of songs with a lot of heart and accessibility.

Must listens: Smokescreen, Call Waiting, Tender Hour, Adam’s Anthem

To have a listen, go to

Order the album by emailing It’s only RM30 and well-worth the money.

Shameless plug here: Mia’s music will grace Electric Minds Project’s next play, Light in KL City. I’ve been incredibly blessed to get the privilege of providing the lyrics for her songs in the play. Do come watch the play and listen to new interpretations of Mia’s music. Running Christmas week at KLPAC, Pentas 2.

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Hamlet – the T4YP remix

T4YP’s production of Hamlet in one word: eclectic.

At its best, it’s quirky fun and has moments of delicious humour. At its worst, it can feel a bit like a high school play. I attribute the latter to the youth of its cast – Hamlet is, after all, a tragedy. There’s a certain level of gravitas and pathos in the play, which, unfortunately never really comes across. Not that it means Hamlet isn’t a good watch. Oh, it can be a fine romp at times so long as you leave your Shakespeare scholar at home.

What is the play all about? Hamlet is the tale of an angry prince who has to deal with his father’s death and what he considers his mother’s hasty remarriage to, of all people, his uncle. It would be too easy to frame it into a One Tree Hill sort of setting – angsty young man going through his rebellious phase. But things are far more complicated than that.

Staging-wise, I’ve always loved how T4YP does so much with so little. Minimalism is practical but risky. With so little emphasis put on props, costuming and sets, the onus is all on the actors and their performances. T4YP’s Christopher Ling opted to dress his actors in current wear in black, white and the odd dash of gray and red. Think cocktail dresses, suits and the odd romper. In the T4YP context of Hamlet, it works.

Nick Dorian starts off the play with some trippy dialogue, playing the role of Hamlet’s uncle and new stepfather. He’s comfortable with his lines though he tends to go a wee bit too fast at times. Acting as the bad guy, Nick chooses to play Claudius with a lot of humour instead of going the one-toned evil villain route. For this version of Hamlet, it works.

Izmir Husein who plays the title role doesn’t have it easy. Hamlet is a play full of monologues, most of them by him. Izmir’s charm and good looks help, not to mention his good enunciation and grasp of difficult Shakespearean lines. His opening night nerves showed, though, and it took a bit of time for him to really slip into Hamlet’s tortured psyche. Despite his personal magnetism and his obvious talent, his Hamlet is far too restrained for my taste. The closest I came to ‘feeling’ his Hamlet were his scenes with Ophelia (Rachel Henry) which were intense and almost terrifying – you didn’t know how far he would go.

The rest of the ensemble – Jit Yang and Gregory Sze are probably my favourite comic actors in T4YP. While Gregory has impeccable comic timing and masters the art of buffoonery, Jit is quieter, more nuanced but still damnably funny without looking like he’s trying too hard. Dinesh as Polonius was the most convincing as an ‘older’ character and rather lovable as the overprotective father and overzealous courtier. Otherwise, the remaining ensemble gave able but not very memorable performances. That couldn’t be helped, though, because Hamlet is about, well, Hamlet.

What could have made Hamlet better would perhaps be waiting for the actors to get a bit older. To live a little. When one of the characters died, the grief just wasn’t there. Neither was anguish. Heartbreak. Guilt. Regret. But I suppose it’s because the players are a bit too young for life to have knocked them around much. The play scratches only the surface of the complexity and pathos of Hamlet but think of this as a training ground for novice actors. I’d advise you to enjoy T4YP’s Hamlet as an accessible, fun show and a glimpse of the potential of T4YP’s new batch of aspiring thespians.

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Things lost, hope found

PosterWebEMP’s second production is another series of short plays in the vein of its last show, Stage Therapy. I loved Stage Therapy for its humour, the quality of its scripts, the energy of its actors and the satisfaction I felt after it ended.
How does The Things We Have Lost fare? Though slightly uneven in parts, I still think it’s worth a watch. Acting-wise, the ensemble was a good one though I would have to say that Elza Irdalynna, especially, stood out.
In a role much too easy to overplay to the point of melodrama, ¬†Elza tackled the character of a crazed, wrought and desperate lover deftly. In the hands of a less able performer, it would be easy to typecast the character as the typical ‘psycho ex-girlfriend’. She brought honesty, believability and vulnerability to a role that is much too easy to play badly. Elza also has something that’s a rarity in today’s local theatre scene: near faultless diction.
New actor Justin seemed to have a case of the stage nerves, often letting his voice drop to a whisper. Project, young man, project! Sham Sunder, as usual, chewed through his scenes deftly though I wished his roles had a bit more meat to them.
Some of the skits seemed to drag on a bit, leaving you with the feeling they should have ended sooner. But overall, the hour spent watching The Things You Have Lost was a good one. There’s a rawness to the material that is endearing, minus the pretensions most people associate with cinema.
I remember Alex Chua, the director of EMP’s Stage Therapy, saying that when writing you had to find that elusive ‘something true’. The Things You Have Lost tells not one, but many, truths. Truths that hurt you, disturb you or creep up on you unawares. So make a point to catch the show and see if you don’t find your own truth in this worthy EMP endeavor.
For bookings, call Elza at 017-2232578 or Marvin at 012-3061229
Want more background on the play? Read Electric Minds, Engaging Theatre.

Electric Minds, Engaging Theatre

Despite being surrounded by thespians, I usually need to be coaxed to see shows. Not this time. Electric Minds Project, a theatre company setup by dear friends of mine, is putting on a second show after the mad brilliance of their maiden production Stage Therapy. It’s another series of short plays but with darker themes.
“A woman with a gun tries to fix her relationship. Three children contemplate selling a house, and their memories of it, one after the other. A mother grieves for her child in an unusually cruel fashion. Friends sift through the ashes of their previous lives. Two lovers contemplate eternity, the view from their rooftop, and moving to Mongolia. The Electric Minds Project is proud to present¬†The Things We Have Lost, a collection of original Malaysian short plays about grief, despair, abandonment, and hope. It stars Elza Irdalynna, Natalya Molok, Nicole Fuchs, Sham Sunder Binwani, Mikey Tai and Justin Wong.”
FlierWebOne hell of a synopsis, eh?
Come for the actors. They’re amazing.
Come for the writing. It’s varied, nuanced and fun.
Come for the venue. PJ Live Arts has a great location – Jaya One.
Come for the ticket price. RM20 for Pete’s sake.
Come for good theatre. You won’t regret it.
08:30PM – 12 Aug 2009, 08:30PM – 13 Aug 2009, 08:30PM – 14 Aug 2009, 08:30PM – 15 Aug 2009, 03:00PM – 15 Aug 2009, 03:00PM – 16 Aug 2009 |
For bookings, call Elza at 017-2232578 or Marvin at 012-3061229