M1 Fringe Festival 2018: Hayat by Pink Gajah Theatre (Review)

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The transformative power of pain is on full display in a moving work from Pink Gajah.

Hayat may be a word that means life, but in Pink Gajah’s newest work of the same name, it begins with a death. Specifically, the memory of the death of performer Ajuntha Anwari’s mother, a trigger to reflect upon her life and begin her journey of grief, not only for her mother, but for her youth, her freedom, and coming to terms with her own mortality.

Hayat’s greatest strength lie in its unwavering roots in truth. It is from these deeply personal memories that Ajuntha harnesses her emotions, so vulnerably displayed onstage as she gazes into an invisible mirror and laments her faded youth, or as she lets loose a cry of pure anguish at the realization that her mother, however estranged, is well and truly lost to the world. Ajuntha’s bare-all performance is the anchor that holds the entire work together; one cannot help but remain transfixed with each anecdote that emerges from her lips, our eyes locked as she finds a mystical, almost spiritual energy that informs her physicality and performance with clarity and sure-footedness.

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Ajuntha’s performance is well supported by director and playwright Sharda Harrison, shifting from playing Ajuntha’s own reflection to a ghostly guardian, moving sprite-like across the stage and tenderly offering care and comfort for her as she lies sobbing in a bathtub. It’s not hard to see the similarities in this mother-daughter duo, and perhaps this incredible chemistry is perfectly captured in the most powerful moment of the entire performance, as they break character and the fourth wall. Addressing Ajuntha as her mother for the first time, the two shared their honest thoughts on death and departures, a simple but devastatingly powerful exchange as it let loose a floodgate of tears from the audience.

At times, Hayat feels closer to a magnificent work of installation art than it does theatre. With a giant projection screen as a background and a clunky TV at the side, the screens sizzle to life with Sean Harrison’s inspired projection work. From pensive images of crowds and the Singapore cityscape to a video of an ‘interview’ with Ajuntha, Hayat relies on its media elements almost as much as it does its actors to support and amplify the work’s themes and message, and at one point, even decides to inject some much needed humour into the heavy play with an entire music video-esque sequence. Sound designer Lim Meiyin also provides a deeply immersive soundscape, such as the simple action of wringing a waterlogged towel replicating the sound of getting into a bathtub perfectly.

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As much as Hayat is a personal story, it is also a political one, with Ajuntha touching on issues of female sexuality and the resentment she felt towards her divorce. Hayat is at once an intimate reflection of an ageing woman’s life and at the same time, a microcosm of the multitude of female lives that have preceded and surround hers. Although one of the most sobering plays we’ve seen in a while, Hayat is not a sob story: it is the story of a woman who has learnt to come to terms with everything that life has thrown at her, and is ready for what lies ahead in her twilight years. With Hayat, Pink Gajah has crafted a truly inspiring, empowering work of art that wows with its artistry and pierces with its honesty, and in the single most triumphant line of the play, Ajuntha proudly declares: “Science has shown that the average woman lives to 90. I want to live to 100.” Said with so much conviction, there is not a shred of doubt that she will do just that.

Photo Credit: Pink Gajah Theatre

Performance attended 17/1/18

Hayat plays at the Centre 42 Black Box till 20th January. Tickets are now sold out. 

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