ZAM ZAM & PEMINJAM WANG, 1990 – 1991


Zam Zam, a street kid, is badly in need of money to help finance a cure for his sick mother. He is forced by circumstances to seek help from a money lender.

Adela Askandar, in rehearsal in Panggung Sasaran, USM (1990)
Source: Seni Kreatif USM

Adela Askandar, in rehearsal in Panggung Sasaran, USM (1990) Source: Seni Kreatif USM

The programme for the 1991 performance 
Source: Seni Kreatif USM

The programme for the 1991 performance Source: Seni Kreatif USM

IThis interpretation is based on the Archive Record Inventory of the “Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang” Project.

Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)


1.1 Programme Name

Program Seni Kreatif, USM Penang (USM Seni Kreatif Programme), 1986 – 1992

1.2 Project Title

Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang, July 1990 – Jan 1991

1.3 Context and Objective

The USM Seni Kreatif Programme was an integrated arts programme for young people, initiated by staff of the School of Arts, University Sains Malaysia. It ran for approximately 6 months of each year from 1986 to 1992; and offered classes in visual arts, drama, music, and movement for small groups of students aged 10 – 16 years of age.

The 1990 project offered two separate creative classes for children, one in visual arts, and a second in drama; with both classes working simultaneously on a common text, adapted from a short story. The dual classes were developed based upon the strengths of the 2 instructors; one who specialised in visual arts education, and the other in drama education.

The objective of the 1990 project was to create a platform for the children to work independently, then together with others to bring their individual skills to a collective performance situation. The end-product, a touring performance cum exhibition, was designed not only to provide an opportunity for the children involved to display the knowledge and skills acquired from the course, but also to generate public interest in arts education for children.

1.4 Project Description

Possibly Malaysia’s first children’s monodrama, Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang featured one young actress playing 3 different characters. The set, poster, and programme were designed by young people aged 13-15. This project involved transforming an Indian short story into a theatrical performance. A total of six children worked on the artistic design aspects of the performance, for 6 months to create the set, poster and programme sheet; while 1 student aged 17, was trained as an actress to deliver the monodrama performance. The monodrama was accompanied by an exhibition of the visual working process; and toured 13 venues in Penang and Kuala Lumpur. The performance was directed by Janet Pillai, and the exhibition was curated by Sugu Kingham.

1.5 Source Material

The text used in this performance was inspired from an Asian short story entitled ‘The Money Lender’ by Raymond Wilson. The author himself seems to have had adapted this short story from an earlier story of his, entitled, ‘If the Cause is Good.’ The short story was first edited into a script by Sugu Kingham in the 80’s then  and translated into Bahasa Malaysia in April 1990, and later readapted to the Penang dialect by Ismail Hashim.

Supporting Archival Materials

The Money Lender by Raymond Wilson. Sample – Page 5

Pak Maidin Peminjam Wang (1990) Monodrama text adapted and translated by Sugu Kingham. Sample – Page 4

1.6 Co-Producer/s/Sponsor/s

Producers: Rosminah Tahir

Sponsors: Pusat Seni Universiti Sains Malaysia

Kompleks Budaya Negara, Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Pelancongan Malaysia

1.7 Project Lead(s)

Janet Pillai & Sugu Kingham

1.8 Creative Team

Theatre Director: Janet Pillai

Art Director: Sugu Kingham

Script Writers and Translators: Sugu Kingham and Ismail Hashim

Musicians: Hamzah Tahir, Rosminah Tahir

Please see ‘Promotional Materials’ for further details

1.9 Participants

SMK Haji Zainul Abidin
13 – 15 1 Participant:
Ng Hon Yee
SMK Penang Free
13 – 15 3 Participants:
Kwok Onn Jui, Cheang Siew Wing, Steven Lim
SMK Hamid Khan
13 – 15 1 Participant:
Ahmad Nadir Iskandar
SMK Haji Zainul Abidin
10 – 12 1 Participant:
Lam Yew Fei
SMK Haji Zainul Abidin
10 – 12 1 Participant:
Adela Askandar
 TOTAL Number of Participants 7 Participants

1.10 Events and Activities

July 1986 – Dec 1986
Panggung Sasaran (Bangunan E15), Universiti Sains Malaysia Penang For Visual Arts and Drama group
25 Mar 1979
Galeri Luar Pusat, USM
di Penang Plaza
Penang Exhibition and workshop performance of Zam Zam and the Money Lender
Performance & Exhibition
19 January 1991 Panggung Sasaran (Bangunan E15),
Universiti Sains Malaysia
23 January 1991 UDA Flats,
Tanjong Tokong
24 January 1991 Sungai Ara Flats,
Sungai Ara
25 January 1991 SMK (A) Al-Mashoor,
Jalan Datuk Keramat
26 January 1991 SK Genting, Balik Pulau Penang
27 January 1991 St. Nicholas Home for Visually Handicapped,
Bagan Jermal
23 February 1991 TBC Kuala Lumpur
23 February 1991 TBC Kuala Lumpur
24 February 1991 TBC Kuala Lumpur
24 February 1991 Central Market Kuala Lumpur
25 February 1991 Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Kuala Lumpur
22 Dec 1981 Tapian Gelanggang Kuala Lumpur

1.11 Promotional Material/Catalogue/Programme

The promotional materials for ‘Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang’ were prepared by the child actors under the guidance of Sugu Kingham, art instructor for the Seni Lukis Kanak Kanak course.

Promotional materials such as invitations, the programme sheet and poster were rendered in pen and ink drawings by the young participants, and reflected the skills and knowledge in drawing attained by the participants from the 6-month course. The artist-instructor, Sugu had always been interested in the concept of drawing as ‘making marks’ and had his students experiment with tools such as sticks and straw to make strokes, dots, and scribbles. In the promotional material, we can see how the childrens’ skills of line drawing have been put to use.

In the poster, the starkness and simplicity of line drawings immediately conjures the exact information necessary for us to decipher the location and the main character. Simple lines denoting a shopfront and signboard with a particular font style, helps us identify the cultural milieu and period of the drama. The programme leaflet provides a synopsis through a combination of text and illustrations which provide visual cues which help the audience unravel the plot, characters, and objects critical to the story.

Supporting Archival Materials

Invitation to art exhibition cum workshop performance, June 1990

Programme leaflet with story synopsis, handwritten and hand drawn by the children in collaboration with Sugu Kingham

Poster for January 1991 performance at USM, handwritten and hand drawn by the children in collaboration with Sugu Kingham

1.12 Final Script/Final Curriculum

Sugu Kingham’s earlier Bahasa Malaysia script, Pak Maidin Seorang Peminjam Wang, was readapted and localised by Ismail Hashim. This final script which came out in July 1990 was renamed Zam Zam dan Peminjam Wang. The readaptation kept the story arc similar and mainly involved transferring the storyline onto a Penang setting with more recognizable characters speaking a local Penang dialect that was more familiar to local audiences.

Supporting Archival Materials

Pak Maidin Peminjam Wang (1990) Monodrama text adapted and translated by Ismail Hashim. Sample-Page 4

(Hard copy of complete script is available at Five Arts Centre AEAM Repository)

1.13 Multimedia Documentation


1.14 Previews and Reviews

“This drama project is to introduce the aesthetics of the performing arts to kids through a child’s eye. One of our main concerns is to let them take a look at the environment, people and situations with an aesthetic eyeThe children were involved in every process of the production, beginning with visits to the places in the story to draw and observe. They later turned their findings into a set and characterisations of different individuals in the play.”   

Children’s theatre for fun learning.
New Straits Times – 26th February 1991

Supporting Archival Materials

Ann Teoh (1991, 26 February). Unique play by kids for kids. The Malay Mail, p. 14. 

Elaine Lim. (1991, 26 February). Children’s theatre for fun learning. New Straits Times, p. 5.

Elaine Lim. (1991, 27 February). Patrick steals show with animated acting. New Straits Times. 

1.15 Publications


1.16 Photographs

See Slideshow of ‘Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang’ and photos displayed in Arts-making Process below.

1.17 Final Report/Project Evaluation:



Synopsis of Story: Zam Zam, a street kid, is badly in need of money to help finance a cure for his sick mother. He is forced by circumstances to seek help from a money lender. The money lender, a gambler, is reluctant to lend the boy money and instead cajoles Zam Zam into trying his luck at the sweepstakes. Zam Zam loses all his savings when his number is not drawn. As a last resort, he decides to sell his most precious personal possession to save his mother.

Supporting Archival Materials

Slideshow of ‘Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang’ (YouTube)


Training, devising and output

As mentioned, this project uses an adaptation of an Indian short story The Money Lender by Raymond Wilson as the textual inspiration. The story was initially adapted as a scripted monologue of sorts and translated into Bahasa Malaysia by Sugu Kingham under the title Pak Maidin Seorang Peminjam Wang. This script was used for the first workshop performance in April 1990.

However, after the first workshop, it was decided that the script was too formal and needed to be made more accessible to a local child audience. The script was readapted by Ismail Hashim; a lecturer in photography at the School of Arts in USM, who had a penchant for the local Penang dialect, and was also renowned for his socially engaged photography which often captured the lives of the working class in Penang. Ismail’s readaptation placed the story within a Penang context, making subtle references to social aspects of life in the slums, injecting local humor, cultural euphemisms and puns. This final script was used for the 1991 performances.

The young participants aged 13-16, from the aforementioned creative arts programmes were only four weeks into training when they were asked to showcase their work at a workshop performance held at the Galeri Luar, Pusat Seni USM, located on a vacant floor of the Penang Plaza shopping complex.

From the start of their training, children were involved in every step of the production; from the conceptualisation to the actual construction of sets, and the development of characters, etc. In order to achieve the vision for a more locally recognisable play, and for the children to understand the context, the children were taken on field trips to Georgetown to visit places reminiscent of the play (i.e. working class homes in the Sungai Pinang area, moneylender shops on Pitt Street and Chulia Street, and four-digit outlets). Here they trained their observational skills, made sketches of the setting, and learned about the people and their practices. They then returned to the studio to translate their observations into the set design and performance.

In the visual arts classes, participants were exposed by Sugu Kingham to the basic principles and elements of 2 dimensional line drawing and 3 dimensional set design. Based on their observations from the field trip, the visual arts group designed a 2-D backdrop using line drawing on recycled cardboard depicting the frontage of shops on a local street. This 2-D set design was used in the first workshop performance. After the first workshop performance, the children spent another 4-months in training. The visual instructor Sugu Kingham worked with his team of children to design and construct a 3-D set using recycled wood and scrap metal.

The visual team also went on to design the promotional material for the show such as poster and programme. The instructor Sugu had always been interested in the concept of drawing as ‘making marks,’ and had his students experiment with all manner of tools such as sticks and straw in creating strokes, dots and scribbles. Much careful research went into the drawings used in the promotional materials, where we can see the painstaking results of the pen and ink drawings; particularly detailing in the costume, textile patterns and clothing accessories, in the use of hatching and line weight to create contrast and pattern. The cleanliness, starkness, and simplicity of the drawings immediately conjures the exact information necessary for us to decipher the location and characters. These details together with simple lines denoting a shopfront with a particular font style for the signboard, immediately helps us locate the cultural milieu and period of the drama. 

The programme provides a synopsis that is a combination of text interjected by illustrations. The illustrations provide visual clues which readers would have to decipher in order to unravel the plot. More importantly, the illustrations prod readers to remember characters and objects critical to the story. This is important as the audience needs to use their imagination to differentiate the 3 different characters played by the solo actor who depends only on narration to tell her story.

The young actor in the drama program, Adela Askandar, felt very challenged as a solo performer. She had to develop and perform 3 different characters in her narrative/storytelling. Her inspiration also came from field trips into the streets of Georgetown. She was guided by ethnomusicologist Tan Sooi Beng (from the Music Department, USM) to deliver the script in a choral-like speaking style. The young participant also found it necessary to make some of her own improvisations on the final script ( see handwritten script entitled Pak Maidin dan Zam Zam). In the final performance the 3-D sets were used and the visual team also came on board into the performance to pose as ‘extras’ in one of the scenes.

The design process and early sketches by the visual team were curated into a mini exhibition which accompanied the final performance tour in January 1991. The  performances toured schools and residential flats in Penang and played at the Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka and Central Market in the Kuala Lumpur tour. Staging was in open spaces such as halls, squares or school field and the audience sat around informally on mats to watch the performance.

The exhibition cum performance was the end-product of six month long  programmes organised by Pusat Seni:-

Supporting Archival Materials

The Money Lender by Raymond Wilson. Sample – Page 1 

Pak Maidin Peminjam Wang (1990) Monodrama text adapted and translated by Sugu Kingham. Sample – Page 1

Pak Maidin dan Zam Zam draft script by Adela Askandar

Photo 1: Performance of Zam Zam dan Peminjam Wang. Photo source: The Malay Mail



Sugu Kingham
Script adapter,  exhibition curator – Zam Zam & the Money Lender
Instructor Visual Arts – USM Seni Kreatif Programme

The acclaimed Malaysian playwright (the late) John Lee Joo For cast me as the antagonist in his experimental play: Girl up the Tree (comprising of only two characters) which was performed in an open area of the campus grounds of the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute (STTI), Cheras, Selangor in 1967. It was a tremendous experience for me to learn the ropes from a mentor such as Joo For. He was instrumental ​in revolutionizing and modernizing the theater and stage in both Malaysia and Singapore in the 60s. His play Son of Zen was staged at the Loft Theater, off Broadway, New York  He was best playwright of the year in Malaysia for three years running (1969-1971).

As early as​ the 80s, when ​I​ was in ​USM ​Penang, drafting ​a​ script ​for​ Zam Zam and the ​M​oney ​L​enderI​ ​already thought to ​incorporate unconventional staging techniques, following the foot steps of Joo For. ​Later,​ when translating the play, my aim was  to adapt ​it​ in such way as to blend it ​in​to the local cultural context.

 When ​my​ script of Zam Zam and the Money Lender‘ was ready; a copy was given to children’s theater exponent Janet Pillai who immediately started to devise the logistics of the play​. (This was the very first version of the play that was to be performed on 3rd June 1990  at the Gallery Luar Pusat Seni at Penang Plaza Georgetown, a gallery run by USM Arts Department).​

 Children from different ethnic backgrounds (13-14 yrs) were chosen to design the set​. ​​T​hey were briefed on the outline of the play which was set in present day Georgetown ​and​ were told about what the job would entail​.​

 The children then​ explored ​the streets of Georgetown to ​search and ​discover scenes​ that might relate to the play​, such the ​S​ungai Pinang area and Chulia Street area​ where money lenders ​were​ ​to be found. They made sketches and collected recycled materials​ (to use as drawing boards).
 The final set was construct​ed​ at the Gallery ​L​uar​,​ ​P​usat ​S​eni ​(venue of the performance)​. Close to the date of the performance, ​large discarded cardboard boxes were unpacked and pasted directly on to the bare walls of the gallery.  Relevant scenes of the play were painted in huge black line drawings resourced from their sketches. 

On the day of the presentation the invited audience either sat or stood in the middle of the gallery and the performance took place around the audience. Tan Hon Yin the deputy director of the state education department who was the guest of honour for the event, was surprised to learn that the sets were designed by the children themselves and he found the performance extremely engaging.

Adela Askandar
Actress – Zam Zam & the Money Lender