PETALING JAYA: Private detective Derek Kong is a man on a mission. He had been tasked by Suraya, a waitress, to find a missing wealthy cyclist named Richard Kwan.
Soon, through a conversation with a group of cyclists discussing zucchini over breakfast, Kong connects the case to a dangerous gang.
As he searches for the truth, a trail of questions emerges: why did the cyclist vanish? Is he even real in the first place? Is there more than meets the eye when it comes to Suraya? Exactly who is she?
Such is the intriguing plot in the pilot episode of the “Derek Kong, Private Detective” drama series – aptly titled the Zucchini Bicycle Case.
Set in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) in the 2020s, Kong solves his cases by fantasising that he is a character in a 1950s noir drama.
However, what’s interesting is that this is an audio drama series: which means it has no visual component.
Launched by Theatre of The Mind (a collective of actors, voice-actors, and directors, among others, who produce audio dramas), it is written and created by Amina Jindani, and produced by Anita Woo, MoOne Drama, and MO1 Productions.
Apart from his role as director, Gavin Yap is also the voice behind the title character, Kong.
He is joined by a strong line-up of talent – Sharifah Amani (Suraya), Woo, Douglas Lim, Radhi Khalid, Natasha Mohdali, and Caleb Ng Kah Lok.
The FMT team were at the soft launch of the pilot episode recently. Presented in two 30-minute segments, the audio series will be ideal to listen to as one commutes to work or potters around at home.
For FMT, it was a wonderful immersive experience as Yap and Sharifah, the two lead characters, were able to draw listeners in and maintain the suspense from start to finish.
Although those who are new to audio dramas may find the absence of visual images a little disconcerting at first, after a while, they may just find themselves listening intently to what the duo will uncover next.
It is also heartwarming to hear mentions of places such as “99 Speedmart”, “KK Mart”, “MR.DIY”, and even the Sprint Highway and the North-South Expressway in the dialogue, familiar spots to most Malaysians.
Of note is the attention to detail paid to the foley sounds – the reproduction of everyday sound effects – in the background. In certain scenes, bird lovers will certainly appreciate the bird songs typically heard in the Malaysian landscape.
For Yap, who is both the director and the suave voice of Kong, one can’t help but wonder: what was the experience like?
“It was trickier than I thought it would be. I don’t think that it’s ever easy to direct yourself, and I am very grateful that Amina was there to guide me at times when I got a little lost and confused. She always had a very clear idea of how it was supposed to be,” Yap told FMT.
“Nowadays, with people getting more used to long-form audio entertainment like podcasts and audio books, there’s no reason why audio dramas like this can’t be just as effective.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the writing and execution. Good storytelling is good storytelling, regardless of the platform.”
For Amina, inspiration struck in 2020 as she was having breakfast at a café in TTDI, and she heard Kong’s voice in her head narrating her morning – with saxophone music in the background!
She immediately started writing, and two weeks later, had completed a rough draft of the story.
The pilot episode is supported by the Malaysian Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA), MyCreative Ventures, and PRISMA.
So, what’s next?
“We have scripts and lots of ideas ready to go but no new funds at present. We would love to know if the business community is interested in part-sponsorship of future episodes or if we could crowdfund for more,” she told FMT.
Learn more about Theatre of The Mind on Facebook.