The Arts

Jo Kukathas

One of the most notable names and pioneers in Malaysia’s performing arts scene, Jo Kukathas and her Instant Café Theatre Company have taken on some thorny issues in expanding the reach of local theatre


Jo Kukathas is the co-founder and artistic director of The Instant Café Theatre Company, and a versatile talent who acts, writes and directs. Graduating with a degree in politics and philosophy, Kukathas spent the early part of her career teaching literature and proof-reading the book of her father K. Das, the political writer and former bureau chief of the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Before she ventured into theatre, her stage experience included a few school productions and variety shows that she and her siblings put on to entertain her family. She got her big break when she had to step in for an actor who dropped out of the parody Caught In The Middle. This led to more acting opportunities and also new friends including Jit Murad, Andrew Leci and Zahim Albakri, with whom she co-founded The Instant Café Theatre Company (ICT). A conversation with the late author and playwright Krishen Jit about their direction and the contemporary political climate inspired them to focus on political satire and also experimental theatre.

Over the years, ICT has expanded its scope to issues like race, religion, gender and climate change. Kukathas’s serious acting chops are matched by her flair for comedy, especially when she is channelling one of the characters she has created such as YB, Ribena Berry, Puan Badariah and Curry Spice. In 2004, she established a writing initiative FIRSTWoRKS, to encourage and produce new Malaysian writers. She is currently working on a book inspired by her cats, Lucy and the late Kahoe.

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Jo Kukathas spent many of her formative years away from Malaysia, following her father who was in the foreign service at the time, including in Australia and Hong Kong. She later went to boarding school in Ooty, India and finally to Britain for university, before returning home.  

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