by Sharda Harrison
Pink Gajah Theatre
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: Let's Walk
(organised and curated by TNS)
Centre 42, Singapore

In a new move starting this year, the annual M1 Singapore Fringe Festival will be themed around an iconic work of local art. This year sees various productions drawing inspiration from Amanda Heng's Let's Walk, a performance art series started in 1999 which featured women walking backwards with high-heeled shoes in their mouths, guided only by a small mirror. It's a powerful statement about female agency and the idea of standing up against patriarchy and societal prejudices.

This evocative piece, written and directed by actor and movement artist Sharda Harrison and featuring both her and her mother Ajuntha Anwari, is part confessional, part physical theatre showcase. It's a tender exploration of a woman navigating her body while musing on the process of ageing and the inevitability of death. The title of the show means 'life' in Arabic and this proves an apt summary of a performance which charts the vitality of a woman reclaiming her narrative and living according to her own terms.

Photo Credit: Pink Gajah Theatre

The tone is both physical and deeply spiritual. The scent of incense wafts in the air as we enter the space and watch the actors perform a series of ritualized moves. The women strip off their robes and regard each other's bodies across a rectangular frame. Harrison is the avatar of her mother, a reminder of the body the latter used to inhabit in her youth.

The action proceeds through a series of vignettes which vary in tone, with live soundscapes by Lim Mei Yin and multimedia work by Sean Harrison. Anwari, last seen in 2015 as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts' Open Homes showcase, is a natural performer who arrests us with her wonderfully expressive face, every emotion playing upon her features. Harrison remains in the backdrop but charms us with her magnetic presence and rich physicality.

Some segments work better than others. A segment where Anwari muses over a failed relationship veers towards melodrama. A lip-synching sequence is funny but rather twee. A palpable quietness descends as Anwari recounts the death of her mother, a strikingly beautiful woman who withered away in her final days. She crawls into a bathtub and weeps while Harrison embraces her. In a filmed interview, Anwari tells us that she didn't realize how old age crept up on her, how she found herself saddled with a body she does not like and no longer receives the attention she used to get in her youth. We see snapshots of a life: sometimes silly, sometimes sad, but always authentic.

Photo Credit: Brandon Seah

The audience implicitly plays a part in the action. We are asked to remove our shoes before entering the black box space. There's a sense of familiarity that the actors are keen to establish, a bit like a friend inviting you into their house. Later on, the women dance to Cyndi Lauper's evergreen classic Time After Time, inviting member of the audience to join them on the floor. It's both awkward and affecting - a tiny bit of humanity that unites us as we smile and enjoy a special moment together.

Towards the end, the women break the fourth wall and talk openly about death. Harrison chokes up as she imagines receiving a phone call one day telling her of her mother's passing. Anwari smiles on indulgently, saying that that she will be all right. Part of the tapestry of life is death and it's something we all have to deal with. The honesty and rawness of the exchange is incredibly moving.

There's perhaps little one could rave about the individual aspects of Hayat but what Pink Gajah Theatre has crafted here is a multitude of sensations and stories that emerges far more than the sum of its parts. We are left with the image of two strong women forging their way ahead in this world, dazzling us with their beautiful, confident stride.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


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