SRI AYU, 1980


Sri Ayu is a modern children’s musical, authored by Faridah Fung Chui Lin in English, and translated by Siti Zaleha Hashim and Usman Awang. The play was performed in-the-round and incorporated audience participation in parts.

Source: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka

Source: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka

Source: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka

Source: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka

Interpretation is based on Archive Record Inventory of the “Sri Ayu” Project and participant feedback.

Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)


1.1 Programme Name

Teater Kanak-kanak, Komplex Budaya Negara Programme (TKK-KBN Programme), 1978-1985

1.2 Project Title

Sri Ayu, 1980

1.3 Context and Objective

As the second group of children (from Phase 2 of the TKK-KBN Programme) were very enthusiastic to continue their involvement in theatre; the director accepted a call by a playwright, Faridah Fung Chui Lin, to stage her play.

The playwright states in the preface of the publication, that she was encouraged by Krishen Jit to write this play. It is possible that Krishen – who was closely following the group of child performers and their instructor Janet Pillai – played a role in bringing the 3 parties together, i.e. child performers, director, and playwright.

The co-producer was Izza Abdul Aziz from Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) who was employed in the children’s publications department of the National Publishing House. She had previously produced a show involving the same group of children and was therefore interested in seeing this new play performed and published.

Director Janet Pillai was in the midst of searching for material with a distinct Malaysian identity, and the story and milieu of the play Sri Ayu seemed to fit the bill; as it was set in the very heart of Kuala Lumpur; and carried a local flavour in terms of theme, action, characters, dialogue, and setting.

1.4 Project Description

Sri Ayu is a modern children’s musical, authored by Faridah Fung Chui Lin in English, and translated by Siti Zaleha Hashim and Usman Awang. The play was performed in-the-round and incorporated audience participation in parts.

1.5 Source Material

This project began when the director was approached with a request from writer Faridah Fung Chui Lin to stage a play written by her, entitled Sri Ayu. An almost complete draft version of the script was provided by the writer.

1.6 Organiser/Producer

Kompleks Budaya Negara, Kementerian Kebudayaan Belia dan Sukan, & Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka

1.7 Project Lead

Janet Pillai

1.8 Creative Team

Director: Janet Pillai

Playwright: Faridah Fung Chui Lin

Music: Zubir Ali

Choreographer: Marion D’Cruz

1.9 Participants

 Bukit Bintang Girls’ School, KL 13 – 18
Pustaka Bimbingan 10 – 12
La Salle Primary School, Brickfields, KL 10 – 12
 TOTAL Number of Participants 23 Participants

1.10 Events and Activities

12-29 April 1980 KBN, and Pustaka Bimbingan, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Kuala Lumpur Rehearsals
N/A N/A N/A No public workshops were held
30 April 1980 Balai Seminar, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Kuala Lumpur Performance during Malam Penyampaian Hadiah Peraduan Menulis Skrip Drama Kanak-Kanak
3 May 1980 Balai Seminar, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Kuala Lumpur
4 May 1980 Balai Seminar, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Kuala Lumpur
10 May 1980 Experimental Theatre, University Malaya Kuala Lumpur
11 May 1980 Experimental Theatre, University Malaya Kuala Lumpur

1.12 Final Script/Final Curriculum

Refer to “1.15 Publications”

1.13 Multimedia Documentation


1.14 Previews and Reviews

““Faridah believes that in a play for children, the strict discipline required of adult performers should not be enforced. There must be no words, no sentences, no philosophy deliberately forced on them”

Sri Ayu is no child’s play
Prompter on Theatre. The Malay Mail – 10th May 1980

Supporting Archival Materials

Munirah, S. & Zahir, S. A. (1980, June 14). Tunas teater: Ruginya kalau ia dibiarkan mati begitu sahaja. Berita Harian (pp. 8).

Harahap, D. (1980). Teater kanak-kanak perlu pembinaan serius. Alam Wanita, 27 (page 38-39).

Prompter on Theatre. (1980, May 10). Sri Ayu is no child’s play. The Malay Mail.

1.15 Publications

The Sri Ayu script was finally published in 1984, incorporating post-performance revisions. The script is a rare example of a modern children’s play that is not condescending, nor preachy; and portrays children and adults alike with sharp cultural sensitivity and truth. The publication of the script is graced by a preface by the playwright Faridah, the score of 3 outstanding compositions by Zubir Ali, and down-to-earth lyrics by Usman Awang and Siti Zaleha Hashim.

Supporting Archival Materials

Abdullah, F. (1984). Sri Ayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka

1.16 Selected Photographs


1.17 Final Report/Project Evaluation:



Synopsis of Story: A modern urban tale about a home-alone kid from a well-to-do family who ‘escapes’ from home to enjoy the freedom experienced by street children. Meanwhile, her parents are worried sick over their missing child and frantically search for her. Upon finding her happy and safe with her new friends, they come to the realisation that they have been negligent parents.

Supporting Archival Materials

Sri Ayu: Images of Performance (YouTube)


This project was framed around a draft script supplied by the playwright. The playwright observed the play-making process, then reshaped the script by accommodating suggestions from the rehearsal floor, in order to strengthen the plot or action. The writer incorporated the changes to produce a final script, which was published after this 1980 staging of Sri Ayu.

This production did not involve much skill training for the young cast (except for mime), as many of them had already received prior theatre training between 1978 and 1979. The rehearsal process required actors to explore each scene through improvisation. During the process of scene building, the children made several day-time study trips to real locations which the script made references to  a hawker center in Kuala Lumpur called Benteng and Jalan Masjid India in Kuala Lumpur; places which transformed by night, because of the many food vendors who operate in a chaotic and exciting atmosphere. Here the children conducted detailed observations of live characters working in the street food industry.

The director took on the challenge to stage this play in the round, although it was written for a proscenium stage. This experiment with staging may not have been the most appropriate given the fact that the action takes place in 5 different locations, and each scene needed to be visible to all the audience. A draft stage design (1) (2) shows the location breakdown for each scene. Since having sets on stage would have blocked the sight lines of audiences sitting in the round, a technique was employed where the location would be implied through dialogue and action. Actors used mime as a stylistic device to conjure a picture of the location, atmosphere, etc. to their audience.

“She [the director] seduced the children’s [audience’s] imagination, set their minds to unravelling the meaning of each mime… It made the audience appreciate these mundane scenes in a different light and thereby sharpened their sensitivity.”

Nice kid stuff
Kee, T.C. New Sunday Times – 25th May 1980

A second technique employed, was to allow the audience to shift their seating positions for each scene in order to gain better visibility; children moved to surround the actors for each particular scene. This experiment, as noted by Kee Tuan Chye in his review (Nice kid stuff, 1980) resulted in some chaos, as crowd control was overlooked for scene transitions, when the audience had to move.

Besides mime, the play experimented with the idea of marionette-like manipulation of the character Ayu, whose limbs were suspended from ribbons, manipulated by her parents; to symbolise their controlling attitude towards their child.

“One began to discern the disturbing incongruity between the puppet-like movements of Ayu’s parents and the sheer vitality of the other characters… Stylisation is fine but it does not need to be forced”

Nice kid stuff
Kee, T.C. New Sunday Times – 25th May 1980

The other challenge in this production was in the delivery of the musical aspect of the play, which was beyond the skills of the children, as well as the young director. This was resolved through a collaboration between children and adults. Two children took to the piano, and an adult musician played the flute, while accompanied by an adult singer. The compositions and lyrics by adults did much to alleviate the message of the play.

Supporting Archival Materials

Abdullah, F. (1980). Sri Ayu draft script 

Abdullah, F. (1984). Final published script. Image of two pages from ‘Sri Ayu’. Sri Ayu. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (page 4 & 5) 

Pillai, J (1980). Stage setting sketch 

Kee, T.C. (1980, 25 May). Nice kid stuff. New Sunday Times


Charlene Rajendran
Supporting child actor playing character of Mak Inang (Lady-in- Waiting)
Project: Si Geroda, 1979

• Pre-project Training
A small group of us were recruited in 1977; when Elizabeth Cardosa was doing Children’s Theatre at KBN, and approached my school (BBGS), to suggest some names for the project. The teacher in charge, Mrs Laura George, chose a few of us whom she thought would be interested. Fortunately, I was on the list! Then we used to have sessions with Beth in the afternoon, where she did a range of improvisations and character-building type sessions. Then in 1978, Janet took over, and we started having sessions in KBN as well.

We did lots of physical warm-up using yoga-type exercises, we warmed up our voices, and we did a lot of improvisation using stories and characters from local folktales. A lot of this involved learning elements of drama and becoming sensitive to time and space, rhythm and movement, tension and conflict, etc. It was done through a range of methods, which involved working in Malay, and using local source materials. This was a big difference from school, which was in English, and had very neo-colonial aesthetics and politics. Also, this as ‘poor theatre,’ based on the idea that the actor was the most important resource and thus the physical and vocal skills had to be acute. Based on traditional theatre approaches, it was also a form of total theatre using a mix of vocabularies. At the time, we were not aware of how significant this was, but was building literacy in aspects of culture that we had little exposure to, being English-speaking middle-class kids.

• Training related to the production
We learnt wayang kulit instruments from the musicians in KBN. I played gong and canang. I also learnt how to melatah from one of them for the role of Mak Inang. We learnt silat movements and contemporary movement from Marion D’Cruz, and we spent a lot of time devising the script and working on some of the songs that had to be sung. I remember writing a song for one of the Burung Gagaks to sing – his name was Jeffrey – but I am not sure if this was for Geroda or for something else we performed. We also did a lot of mime, and the performance workshops leading up to the performance had little showings of mime scenes that we created. We had to have a lot of homework, like preparing and rehearsing. And, we spent many hours in KBN. Sometimes, Janet would also come to the school, and we rehearsed in the field, under a tree, or wherever there was a bit of space. But, the main thing was feeling highly invested in the project. I think because it was so unusual to anything else we were doing, and there was no ‘syllabus’ in a textbook which was taught in the usual boring manner. This was evolving based on who we were, and what we thought or brought to the sessions.

• Primary/Secondary Research (field trips, interviews, apprenticeship)
A lot of the work was influenced by being in KBN, going to Anak Alam and watching people in Benteng. There was a sense that this was serious work, and so we had the responsibility to make it happen. It felt more serious than stuff we did at school, because it was coming from us – as in devised by us, and we were being trained by professionals.

• Rehearsals
These were only at the end, when the script was ready. Until then it was a lot of improvisation and play-building that did not feel like rehearsal. It was highly process-oriented so it felt very fresh. Even after roles were assigned, there was still a lot of research and character development, so it did not feel like rehearsal but more like constructing something that had no clear specified goal. But, once there was a script, then the refining and sharpening happened, and it was hard work. And it felt like rehearsals happened when there were costumes and musicians as well. We used to rehearse in KBN, but when we finally moved to DBP it felt very special. Because we had professionals doing make-up for us, and we were picked up in a special bus, etc. So it felt as if we were doing something important. Then, Krishen wrote a review in his column Utih, and that made it even more significant. Also, adults seem to think we were doing something that was unusual. In hindsight, it was!

• Performance
But when it came to performing, it was quite special because the audience children were seated on the floor, and we performed on the same level as them. There was no raised platform. So, this meant we were among them, and they were very close to us. The feeling of the performers having to tell a story so directly to the audience was quite a challenge. And there were segments that Mak Inang had to improvise with the children and get their cooperation. That was sometimes havoc. Especially in the basketball court or outdoor spaces, when we were on tour in 1981.

Foo May Lyn
Lead child actor playing the character of Geroda
Email Interview – 13 April 2016

• On Devising
As a 13-year old, I did not know the meaning of ‘to devise’. I only knew ‘improvise’ because Janet Pillai explained that to us. Improvisation sessions were held where we were given a ‘framework’. Prior to that, we had lots of voice and body exercises. I remember being ’emptied out in the mind’, and with the framework given, I basically, ‘spilled it all out’ …either reacting-to or provoking that situation within the given framework.

I remember a session where we had extremely long hair, which kept growing throughout the session; from knee length to 200 yards…we improvised that. Then, with 200 yards of hair, we would find (for example) a magic stone (actually it was a fan) … and we had to improvise reacting to its magic with all that hair on us. The magic might have been something which made us change or react to something else. That was when Ms. Pillai explained ‘metamorphosis”… so we would metamorphose into whatever took our fancy given the framework (the framework would start off loosely and Ms. Pillai would keep tightening it (unbeknownst to us, it was SHE who was devising). We were merely improvising non-stop.

As an adult remembering back, we definitely had no notion of planning or creating a system/story. We gave what we were told to give… so imagine little squares of images and words which we kept ‘spilling out’ into squares, with that adult (Janet Pillai) collecting it all in a box (her head and notebook) and only she could see the bigger picture and she selected what she felt fit and was useful for that picture she had… she would then sew all those little boxes up into one frame; not unlike a patchwork quilt. This is also the way I would describe how Krishen Jit worked when we devised Chance Encounter (a devised play featuring Foo May Lin and Faridah Merican, directed by Krishen Jit).

PS: the above was pre-Si Geroda sessions. By the time we got the script for Si Geroda the play, Janet Pillai dismantled that quilt and appropriated particular box-squares for particular scenes. I (then a 13-year old) had no idea that all of the previous sessions were being pieced together with a script, for a final production. We were not told for at least a year that there was an ‘end’ to this means.