A play: They Call Me Nyai Ontosoroh

The Battle of a Netherlands Indies Nyai at the end of the 19 century

NyaitourtoEU-2Playscript by Faiza Mardzoeki
Directed by Wawan Sofwan
Actors Verani M. van Driel, Willem Bevers, Puspita Hadiati, Wawan Hermawan
Artistic Director: Deden Bulqini,
Film and Video art Director: Ariani Darmawan,
Music Director: Patrick Shaw Iversen,
Make up and Costume: Irina Dayasih
Producer: Faiza Mardzoeki

In 2007 in Indonesia, the country’s major daily newspaper, Kompas, declared the play Nyai Ontosoroh (The Concubine Named Ontosoroh) as the theatrical production of the year. The play had been performed by several theatre groups in several cities throughout the year. A specially selected ensemble, under the direction of Wawan Sofwan, performed it to packed houses in Jakarta. A thousand people came each night, with standing room only, even the stairs had people sitting there.

The play is by Indonesian playwright activist Faiza Mardzoeki’s adaptation of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s record breaking Indonesian novel Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind). Faiza’s adaptation focuses on the story of the concubine named Ontsoroh, who was sold as a young girl, the named Sanikem (acted by Verani M. van Driel) to become the concubine of a Dutch businessman in Surabaya, the second biggest city in the then Netherlands Indies. The play follows the struggles and tribulations of Sanikem alias Ontosoroh as she fights to overcome her status as a nyai (concubine); to defend the family she has in concubinage, and to raise up the dignity and worth of all “natives” in the Indies.

This new version is called “They Call Me Nyai Ontosoroh”. It combines video art and film by Ariani Darmawan and new music by Norwegian composer Patrick Shaw Iversen. This adaptation is based on just four major roles. The play will be performed in Indonesian, with English Subtitles.

The play also introduces other key characters from Pramoedya’s great novel: Herman Mellema, (Willem Bevers) the Dutch colonial businessman; Annelies (Puspita Hadiati), the nyai’s Indo daughter; and Minke (Wawan Hermawan), a young Javanese, inspired by the real life character of Raden Mas Tirto Adhisoeryo, the first Indonesian to own and run a nationalist newspaper, have now entered the Indonesian readers’ psyche throughout the country.

This version is being produced to be performed at the Troppen Theatre Amsterdam and the Tong Tong Festival in Den Haag in May, 2010.