I attended yesterday afternoon at the Southbank Centre an abbreviated wayang kulit peformance by Aris Daryono, a musician from Java who has been a member of the Southbank Gamelan Players (SBGP) for some years. This was Mas Aris' debut performance as a dhalang, and in many ways a fairly auspicious start. The wayang, accompanied by the SBGP, was a free event in the ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall (the same location where Purbo Asmoro did his all-night wayang with the Southbank Gamelan Players in 2007), part of an event billed as Gamelan Christmas Chimes that also featured a variety of dances and music, with Ni Made Pujawati and friends. (Unfortunately I didn't get to see the earlier acts.) The wayang lasted a bit over two hours in all.
Though he has been living in London for quite some time, Mas Aris's English is thickly accented, and the poor amplification meant that it was often hard to understand what he was saying. There was very little dialogue, however, so this was not much of a problem. Gathtokaca Gugur is considered to be a very 'heavy' lakon, as it is part of the Bharatayudha cycle and features the death of one of wayang's most beloved characters. But Aris played up the comedy, with an emphasis on two of the punakawan, Petruk and Bagong, and good use made of his musical talents, particularly in timing the dancing of the puppets to music. His sabetan was a bit rough and unpolished, as might be expected, and though he has a nice singing voice he had some trouble with getting the right notes for the start of the sulukan he sung. Musical accompaniment by the Southbank Gamelan Players was polished and professional - I enjoyed particularly the rendition of Banyumas pieces, though was less convinced by an arrangement of a Sundanese tembang for pesinden, Sundanese rebab and Javanese siter.
There were a number of funny jokes along the way, many aimed at SBGP members. Cakil, in his battle against Arjuna, spoke first with John Pawson, asking if he was single and if so did he want to go on a date with him to see a movie. The punakawan joked about how the SBGP is the best gamelan group in the world, playing on the SBGP's sometimes overly-inflated self opinion. The clowns then apologised to Andy Channing, a SBGP who also directs London's Lila Cita Balinese group, and said that actually it is the second best group. There was also a very funny bit where Durmagati, loaded down with weapons, searches the field of battle to look for Gatotkaca, who is behind him- leading to inevitable panto-like exchanges with the audiences -- 'he's behind you!' 'I didn't say I would kill you...' 'Oh yes you did!' 'Oh no I didn't!'
All in all, good fun, even if the philosophy and tragedy of the lakon were absent.