Review: THE GREAT RAHWANA Made Its Grand Return to the Stage

It once again offers a banquet of songs, dances, and skits.

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As part of their 49th anniversary, TEATER KELILING revived THE GREAT RAHWANA for a 2-show run on Saturday, March 4th, 2023 at Teater Besar, Taman Ismail Marzuki. THE GREAT RAHWANA was previously shown in 2019 at the Ciputra Artpreneur. This revival brings great acting, bombastic music, spectacles, and the same familiar story.

Our review of the 2019 production can be found here. The story to THE GREAT RAHWANA is adapted from the novel RAHWANA PUTIH by Sri Teddy Rusdy, with the script penned by Dolfry Inda Suri and Aldiansyah Azura. Teater Keliling cofounder and veteran director Rudolf Puspa returned to direct the show..

THE GREAT RAHWANA is a retelling of the Ramayana legend; the rakshasa king Rahwana kidnapped the beautiful goddess Sinta in hopes of marrying her. She was finally saved when her husband Rama launched a siege on the Alengkadiraja Kingdom, but not before verifying Sinta's purity. Rama's arrow struck Rahwana; and as the rakshasa took his last breath, Sinta mourned and declared that his love was pure.

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Just as before, the show had two cast: Candrasa for the matinee and Pancasona for the evening show. This review is based on the Candrasa cast. Rahwana is played by Achmad Fadlan, Sinta by Kintan Fatia, and Sarpakenaka by Aulia Nursaffanah.

Even before the show starts, it becomes obvious that THE GREAT RAHWANA is not just another theatre show. Greeters clad in big, colorful, carnaval-like costumes welcome audience members as they line up to enter the venue. The director himself greeted the audience directly, with his adorable granddaughter waddling by his side. It feels more like a celebratory event, and, in a way, it is: a celebration of Teater Keliling returning to live stage.

On a second viewing, it became apparent to me that THE GREAT RAHWANA does not follow modern Western musical conventions. Rather, it's a modern rendition of Indonesian theatrical traditions that combine different art forms on stage, all in order to entertain and delight the audience. Therefore, the wildly different formats used between scenes are not unfortunate oversights, but rather a conscious decision by the writers.

With that in mind, THE GREAT RAHWANA provides such a lush variety of performances - intricate dance numbers, heartrending duets, to comedic skits with improv - that anyone can find something to enjoy.

Review: TRUST ORCHESTRA's THE LEGENDS 8 Enchants with Magical Ghibli and Dreamworks Tunes

That being said, some segments are more effective than others in rousing emotion from the audience. The comedy segments, involving men of the court giving their best pick-up lines to woo the flirty Sarpakenaka, can be very hit-or-miss.

While the actors obviously had great fun and energy on stage (and some great moments of physical comedy), the jokes often come across as trite or overused. Such scenes also run overly long, dragging what could've been a fun little comedic diversion into a slog.

However, other comedic moments fared better; the back-and-forth between Sarpakenaka and Rahwana, for example, feels more natural and full of loving, witty banter, just as one would expect from a pair of siblings. .

Review: TRUST ORCHESTRA's THE LEGENDS 8 Enchants with Magical Ghibli and Dreamworks Tunes

Where the show shines is the big ensemble numbers. With upwards of two dozens of performers on stage at the same time, the crowd numbers are delightfully lively and well-coordinated by choreographer Edo Prima Riyanda.

One of the most visually striking numbers was Bunga Rosa, which incorporated fan dance to portray the scarlet petals of a poisonous rose. This marriage of different art forms is something that THE GREAT RAHWANA does really well, taking us through the different shapes of human artistic expression.

Review: TRUST ORCHESTRA's THE LEGENDS 8 Enchants with Magical Ghibli and Dreamworks Tunes

Another standout moment was Cinta dan Benci, an energetic number in which the ensemble portrays the turbulence of both love and hate, which are sometimes just two different sides of the same coin. However, a technical mishap left two vocalists without a working microphone: one of the singers and the featured rapper. This left the song without the power it had in the previous run.

Some of the more dramatic moments also worked quite well, including the final number Cinta Sang Rahwana. Kintan Fatia is a dignified Sinta, making her tender and beautiful singing all the more breathtaking.

The most difficult role is, unsurprisingly, Rahwana, as the actor would have to be charismatic, comedic, fierce, romantic, devoted, and vulnerable. Achmad Fadlan is all this, and more. It's astounding just how smoothly he transitioned between these different facets from scene-to-scene. He's certainly a talent to watch.

Review: TRUST ORCHESTRA's THE LEGENDS 8 Enchants with Magical Ghibli and Dreamworks Tunes

But the crowd favorite is, without a doubt, Sarpakenaka, as brought to life by Aulia Nursaffanah. The rakshasi is full of life and loves to bask in the adoration of the men in the court. She's flirty, bouncy, but always in control. It's a charming display of empowered femininity, as she also uses her experience in courtship to advise Rahwana.

The rest of the cast also did a satisfactory job, although most of them unfortunately had very few scenes in which they could shine. But it's just heartwarming to see both young talents and stage veterans sharing scenes, each of them acting their part wholeheartedly, no matter how small

This year's THE GREAT RAHWANA had some changes in the production design. At least one big set piece was taken out (the gazebo that Sinta uses as her lodging), replaced by a simpler bed. The production also once again makes use of video projection as backdrop, but this time greater care is taken with the lighting, so that it doesn't wash out the projected image. As a result, it's easier to appreciate the lighting, which consistently enhances the scenes by adding the appropriate dramatic flair.

Review: TRUST ORCHESTRA's THE LEGENDS 8 Enchants with Magical Ghibli and Dreamworks Tunes

The musical score (directed and conducted by M. Farhan Hidayat) is just as varied as the scenes, with some songs that have a more pop, contemporary sound, while others are more reminiscent of classic show tunes. This time around, however, the live music is an even more significant member of the troup; the robust orchestration injected an electrifying power to the musical, making each musical scene all the more memorable.

All in all, THE GREAT RAHWANA is a show with a lot to offer. What it might lack in narrative it makes up with a variety of theatrical moments, both comedic and dramatic. Though the strength of these segments also vary, nevertheless you'll be leaving with at least a few moments to enjoy and remember.

Just as the legend of Rahwana is a story that's been passed down through generations, THE GREAT RAHWANA itself is a modern-day embodiment of Indonesian theatre culture. And as theatre keeps being developed and re-defined, taking inspiration from foreign theatrical traditions, it's important to have a tether to our rich cultural history.

Review: TRUST ORCHESTRA's THE LEGENDS 8 Enchants with Magical Ghibli and Dreamworks Tunes


Review: TRUST ORCHESTRA's THE LEGENDS 8 Enchants with Magical Ghibli and Dreamworks Tunes

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Madu DIPSLIPY (3/24-6/14)

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