“A Prayer Needs No Explanation”
Reviewer: Jevon Chandra
Performance: 17 January 2018
In one sequence, performers Ajuntha Anwari and Sharda Harrison embrace in a bathtub and hum “Que Sera Sera” in unison. Ajuntha’s voice flickers, her pitch fluctuating and breath petering out in the song’s longer phrases. The voices kiss then fall apart – but they remain together.
When they have journeyed through their leg of the song, the melody is entrusted onto the voice of media designer and musician Sean Harrison, who completes the tune with utmost gentleness.
In such moments, Hayat is sublime.
As such, Hayat can afford to revel in its pathos and less on exposition. Anwari paints the metaphor of bow and arrow for the relationship between mother and daughter, and I recall a line from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” This association also reminds me of the sheer economy of Gibran’s text, and the enduring force it achieves with so few words. Not unlike the bow which launches only as forcefully as its string is taut, Hayat may have benefitted from a tightening of texts. The laborious excavation of Anwari’s memory and mortality leading to the play makes every uttered speech precious. Every word has the potential to be a gem, and I yearn for a script that is more direct than dense in its recounts.
Hayat also suffers from an eagerness to dramatise. On several unearned occasions, tensions are heightened and voices are raised, as if anxious of losing the audience’s attention. For example, right after the singing of “Que Sera Sera” has tapered off, and with barely a beat to dignify the tenderness, Anwari’s sobbing crescendoes into a wail. Such gestures are palpably felt, but the punches, though powerful, lacked aim. The result is that moments puncture instead of punctuate, leaving behind holes in place of texture.
At its best, Hayat does no performing – the business of living, as embodied in Anwari’s journey, simply unfolds on stage. At its bravest, knots and non-sequiturs are allowed to simply be, without the pressure of sense or resolution. One video montage weaves snippets of religious rituals and reverence, natural disasters, and childbirth – these are visions of forces acting upon agents, and agents living out (un)due courses. In another moment, the performers invite audience members to dance with them, and then with yet other members of the audience. It is awkward, but we all move in tune; and the wooden floors creak, heaving a sigh of relief.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
HAYAT by Pink Gajah Theatre
17 – 20 January 2018
Black Box, Centre 42
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jevon recently graduated from Yale-NUS College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Humanities, and currently aspires to be a full-time artist and musician.