The Light Within The Night is a La Mama exclusive; a collaboration between La Trobe University Student Theatre and Mainteater Bandung. Directed by Sahlan Mujtaba and Bob Pavlich, The Light Within The Night is an intriguing play that centres on a Sundanese story of a poor man, Jamarun, who is wrongfully convicted of murder by his village. Before his subsequent execution he tells the villagers that his dead body will omit a beautiful fragrance that will convey his innocence. Jamarun’s last words become a curse as the scent of his death attracts birds and butterflies that fill up the skies; swallowing up the sun and ultimately turning the day into perpetual night.
The implications of the ancient Sundanese tale are being explored in this play. The scenes shift between the enactment of the old tale and a modern story – highlighting a cultural exchange between Indonesian and Australian students. The students confront difficult topics ranging from women’s rights to political relations between Australia and Indonesia while trying to leave behind their preconceptions about the other culture. The Light Within The Night questions the Eurocentric views typical of Australians and gives room for Indonesians to represent their own culture on their own terms. The play is essentially stories within stories with origins from both Australia and Indonesia and on occasion the two countries are seen to share similar narratives when it comes to social issues. One of the most interesting aspects of the play is the commentary on racism and alcohol abuse that is prevalent in Australian culture. The way the Indonesians perceive Australians and their social issues is certainly refreshing and asserts that not one culture can lay claim to being the standard bearer for societal behaviour.
While there is a lot of confrontational and dark material being explored in The Light Within The Night, there are also a lot of laughs and lighter moments. An enlightening cultural exchange between the Indonesian and Australian students shines through as stories, food and entertainment enable a representation of multiculturalism in its best light. The mood, atmosphere and pacing tends to alter dramatically, keeping you engaged throughout. Much of the audience were immersed in the play as was evident from the avid responses throughout the night. The performers had an amazing chemistry with the audience and made it feel like we were a part of the story.
The production – with simple props and lighting – managed to make the stage feel larger than it was. The inclusion of the Sundanese language in the dialogue really enhanced the concept of cultural exchange and gave the impression that we were witnessing authentic Indonesian culture. It is not common to come across performances in mainstream media that does not appropriate culture for consumerism. While the subtitles provided through a projector were not always clear, it didn’t ruin the experience and the atmosphere of the play was very intense. The scene of Jamarun’s execution was particularly memorable with the use of shadows used to superb effect. It really did feel like the room was swallowed up in darkness and despair as the Sundanese tale suggests.
The Light Within The Night is an invigorating play with an impressive and talented cast. It offers an immersive exploration of the ways that Indonesian and Australian cultures can relate. Intellectually stimulating and just as entertaining, it delivers social commentary in a way that is easily digestible.