Seasoned Malaysian actress Jo Kukathas anchored a tour de force solo performance in Checkpoint Theatre’s Occupation, which played at the Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, from September 27th to the 29th 2012.
Occupation, written by Huzir Sulaiman and directed by Claire Wong, tells the true life story of Mrs. Mohamed Siraj, who as Sulaiman explained during the post show discussion, was his grandmother. Occupation was first staged in 2002 to critical acclaim, and Sulaiman took inspiration for his script from real life interview sessions done with his grandparents in the 1990’s.
Driven by a protagonist in the form of a fictional character Sarah, who’s an oral historian given the task of interviewing Mrs. Siraj, Occupation examines Mrs. Siraj’s life from the affluent days when she lived in a huge house full of cooks and servants and when her mother would shop at Robinsons and Whiteways (exclusive upmarket shopping centres that would open their stores just for her) to her post-war years at a time when food was scarce and life was both miserable and unstable as she was sequestered at home during the entire war period. Through it all emerges a love story that is the theme of this play as Mrs. Siraj catches the eye of a Mr. Siraj who moves into her neighbour’s house to give tuition to the children there in exchange for food and lodging. With an overly protective, strict and somewhat unreasonable mother, Mrs. Siraj has to content herself with little peeks at Mr. Siraj as she steals chances to climb up to the roof or sneak by the window.
In time, a mutual friend approaches Mrs. Siraj’s mother to arrange for the marriage between Mr. Siraj and Mrs. Siraj, vouching and guaranteeing that Mr. Siraj is a good man. Whilst it is not delved into, it is implied that Mr. Siraj turned out to be a very good man and husband, who dies later on, leaving his resting place glowing because of his good nature and soul.
Sarah, who is documenting Mrs. Siraj’s life through the whole play, lets the audience in on her own views, monologue style, which range from jealousy, annoyance and even anger that Mrs. Siraj had led an opulent lifestyle, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and didn’t really suffer during the war years (while many Singaporeans did), to irritation and sadness that Mrs Siraj had what seemed like a very fulfilling and loving relationship with her partner while Sarah herself has a problematic relationship with her boyfriend Tony.