TNC Interview 2020
"The Penang Riots unpicks a really interesting time in Colonial Malayan history and explores the life of East Asian minorities in the context of the new Sino-British trade routes."
Hannah Shields & Shafeeq Shajahan
Malaya Relived: The Penang Riots
Starting May 8th, The Penang Riots will stream on Liver & Lung's YouTube Channel for a limited time only.
Malaya Relived: The Penang Riots is a historical epic musical set in British Malaya, exploring social hierarchies, gang warfare and the illicit opium trade which sparked the subsequent Georgetown riots in 1857.
Hi Hannah & Shafeeq, thanks for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?
Hi! At Liver & Lung Productions, we’ve always been dedicated to entertaining, telling compelling stories and keeping fabulous. As is the case for all artists in ‘lockdown’, some days are great, some are more challenging. There's a pressure to be super productive and 'make the most' of self-isolation but sometimes, what our body and mind needs the most is to sit down with a cup of tea, have a chat with our families and be grateful that we have a roof over our head. We're trying to get this balance right. We’re both very driven people and so it’s frustrating when external forces prevent our plans from being realised. You have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We’re very lucky to have our health and not be on the front line.
Will this time offer you some creative inspiration?
Absolutely! COVID-19 has set an unprecedented tone for 2020, but that shouldn’t stop us from being creative and enjoying theatre - albeit in a new way. One of the first things we did was set up a podcast. It’s called Finding Fabulous, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts (shameless plug).
We’d been meaning to launch it for a while and self-isolation provided us with a unique opportunity. Each episode we talk about creativity, storytelling and pay tribute to our Idol of the Day. It’s fun, upbeat and a great way to keep ourselves and others inspired during these difficult times. We’ve also begun hosting a variety of original musicals on our YouTube channel (Liver & Lung Productions) for audiences around the world to enjoy.
How does it feel to be releasing Malaya Relived - The Penang Riots ( @ Home) digitally this Friday?
It feels incredible! The 'Relived' series is a historical musical anthology that invites audiences to travel back into time and relive pivotal moments in history. You get the chance to dress up, let loose and witness musical spectacles unfold before your eyes. Transferring this to a digital experience seems so wrong that it’s right! It’s a great way for new audiences to watch our stories and share our joy.
The Penang Riots unpicks a really interesting time in Colonial Malayan history and explores the life of East Asian minorities in the context of the new Sino-British trade routes. It’s a niche and rarely told part of history, but we’re so proud of the characters and the music that we developed. It’s dark, it’s funny and it’s a magical exploration of corruption, concubines and Chinese culture. Not to mention, the costumes and design is spectacular. I really think you’ll enjoy it.
You got an amazing reception for Sepet The Musical (@ Home) when it was first released, did you expect to get such an amazing reaction to the show?
There’s always a level of risk involved when you innovate and try something different. We knew we had something special in our hands with Sepet The Musical, as a live stage show, but were concerned about how a recording would translate - particularly when the recording was never intended for broadcast purposes. Would the intimacy, power of music and stagecraft be lost?
Thankfully, our videographer, Riz Hamzah, is top-notch and the quality wasn’t compromised. The reception Sepet The Musical (@ Home) received was incredible. The feedback was electric and extremely humbling. Many viewers were not traditional theatre goers so it was fantastic to be able to reach new audiences and introduce them to the magic of the theatre. Liver & Lung is now determined to prove its dedication to entertainment during these difficult times with a second digital release and promote this globally.
How did it feel bringing The Penang Riots to Kuala Lumpur last year?
In a disruptive world with an uncertain future, sometimes, answers may very well be in the past. At Liver & Lung Productions, we strive to present old ideas in new ways and we know that the Relived series accomplishes that. We launched it in 2017 in London where we created Speakeasies, Discos and Raves in dilapidated warehouses and audiences loved it. Bringing it to KL was a dream come true because it meant that the ‘Relived’ concept was truly universal and that all audiences - regardless of background - find the need to look into the past and ‘relive’ experiences.
"Liver & Lung is a passion project, developed by two friends who love each other and are both dedicated to filling the world with fabulous stories."
Selling out the two weeks must have felt incredible, what do you think it was about the show that connected with the audiences so much?
The show has some incredible musical theatre gems in it. The music by our composer Ian Skatu, sung by a stellar cast (Cheryl Tan, Melissa Ong and Phraveen Arikiah) make the experience really intimate.
The story itself is peculiar: the musical tells the tale of Lady Hwang, a Chinese land owner in Penang, an island in Malaysia, as she struggles to come to terms with her husband’s new corrupt relationships with new secret societies. The story also features a eunuch, imported from India as a slave, and his prophecies drive the narrative forward. It’s a kooky story that’s equally as hilarious as it is devastating.
The combination of all the above made it such an amazing experience.
Any nerves ahead of the launch on Friday?
A few. You’re sharing your baby with the world and that’s something you need to prepare yourself for. It’s nowhere near as nerve wracking as watching/waiting for a live performance though where anything could go wrong at any time!
Have you always had a passion for musical theatre?
Hannah: Yes, I started dancing when she was three and was raised on a diet of Disney and MGM. I’ve always been interested in stories, larger than life characters and ‘putting on a show’. For me, song and dance say what words can’t so musical theatre was something I was naturally drawn to.
Shafeeq: I have a love-hate relationship with musical theatre, mainly because it’s so challenging to get right! Telling a story through song is a difficult science and art to get right and it, sometimes, gets a bad reputation. The truth is that there are some stories that simply need more than words - and that’s where musical theatre really shines.
How did Liver & Lung come about?
Liver & Lung is a passion project, developed by two friends who love each other and are both dedicated to filling the world with fabulous stories. We studied together at UCL - history and economics respectively - but spent most of our time in the theatre creating and performing musicals. After graduating, Shafeeq moved back to Malaysia and Hannah stayed in London. We decided to set up a company partly based in the UK and partly based in Malaysia, so we could continue producing theatre together and borrow the learnings from each other’s culture.
Back in 2017, LIVER & LUNG won the BOH Cameronian Award for Innovation in Musical Theatre, what did it mean to you as a company to get this type of recognition?
It’s nice to get recognised. It’s especially nice to get recognised for innovation. Bringing something new to the scene and developing a new form of musical theatre has always been at the heart of the Liver & Lung ambition. The musical that we won for, ‘Mahsuri (& Other Peculiar Tales)’ is a modern adaptation of multiple Asian folklore and legends, told with a twist. We’re so excited because we’re now looking to adapt it for the screen. Fingers crossed and follow us for updates!
Do you have a favourite musical theatre quote?
Hannah: “If I hadn’t believed in you, I wouldn’t have loved you at all.” Last Five Years.
Shafeeq: “Stop worrying where you’re going, move on. If you can know where you’re going, you’ve gone.” - Sunday In The Park With George
What has been the best advice you have been given?
Hannah: “If you want to be a writer, write… If you want to be a dancer, dance…” In other words, practice and persevere. Don’t spend your days wanting to be something and then spend your free time doing everything but.
Shafeeq: “Don’t f*** it up.”
Is there any advice you would offer another company?
Take every opportunity, know your audience and keep going!
What is next for Malaya Relived - The Penang Riots?
The Penang Riots forms part of a musical anthology titled, Relived. This project began in London in 2016 with the aim of creating an immersive time travelling experience for audiences, where they could party in a decade gone by whilst watching an original musical unfold before their very eyes. Malaya Relived focuses on iconic, yet rarely explored, events in Britain and Malaysia’s shared history. Our ambition is to tour the series in the UK and around the Asiatic region to give audiences something fresh, innovative and authentic. The stories are completely different to anything we’ve seen in the UK but their relevance is undeniable. We’re excited for British audiences to see it!
And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from Malaya Relived: The Penang Riots?
Lessons from the past may hold answers to our future.