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M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: Walking In Beauty by Petrina Kow (Review)

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Petrina Kow showcases the empathetic effect of storytelling in this simple yet impactful session from six incredibly beautiful women. 

Petrina Kow is a woman who has been blessed with the gift of an incredible voice and knowing exactly how to use it. And as with the best gifts, it’s one that she’s learnt to share in her fullest capacity – through the power of storytelling, and teaching others how to tell their stories.

Walking in Beauty by Petrina Kow | Photography by Kelly Fan | St

Curated and directed by Petrina, Walking In Beauty presents six women of diverse backgrounds, each artists in their own right, as they take to the stage and share deeply personal stories and anecdotes about their life, and what beauty means to them, often in some truly surprising, moving ways. But rest assured this is not just a feel good session; many of the stories are fraught with pain, self-doubt and at times, even death. And it is in that realism and honest truth that we feel a connection to these women, and their immensely universal, all-encompassing stories of being human.

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The set-up is incredibly simple, with each women taking her turn in the spotlight, and speaking within their allocated time. There are no illusions here, only a single microphone and a person pouring their very soul into it.  Each story is preceded by an introduction from Petrina in voiceover form, her tone full of warmth and nothing but the sincerest of love and respect for the person she introduces. Each story is evidently rehearsed, with the confidence in which each storyteller tells it, but simultaneously feels completely natural, each one managing to use their inbuilt charm to arrest the audience with their words and grip them with their delivery.

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Petrina has arranged the order of stories impeccably, starting with lighter anecdotes before those heavier in topic, before ending on a note of hope. The first speaker was educator and spoken word performer Arianna Pozzuoli, sharing about a ‘weird’ childhood habit that started as a secret shame before becoming a force for positivity and pride. This was followed by fellow performance poet Deborah Emmanuel, who shared her story about her own body, antithetical to TV’s portrayal of beautiful women, yet reclaiming her power in not giving a second thought to anyone who really cared. On occasion, Deborah would even break into a couple of sung lines, her hand gestures strong and assured, emphasising her every word.

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Next up was drama educator, fashion label owner and mother of five Oniatta Effendi, without a doubt the most entertaining speaker. Unabashed and frank, there was a seemingly limitless energy to the way she shared her insane ‘Vigil Aunty’ chronicles in navigating her relationships with her family members. A woman whose life has encountered various naysayers and strife, it is a testament to her strength that she’s managed to weave it into an often laugh out loud narrative that still leaves one feeling warm and thankful for the bonds of family at the end of her tale.

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Oniatta was succeeded by the two heaviest stories of the set. TV presenter Anita Kapoor is often seen as a pillar of strength, a steely fierceness to her that echoes in her poise and onscreen personality. But here, audiences were given a rare chance to see Anita at her most vulnerable, in sharing about her complicated relationship with her late mother, leaving behind a determination to have her beauty defined by no one but herself. In a story that seemed to contrast Anita’s strength, theatre actress Frances Lee took to the stage and opened up about her history with her weight and appearance. Easily mixing in humour at the beginning, we were left with nothing but quiet empathy for her as she confessed her continued struggle with self-acceptance, perhaps one of the most universal doubts just about everyone in the audience has had at some point in their lives.

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Ending off on the perfect hopeful note with physician and Bharatnatyam dancer Dr Uma Rajan on coping with the death of her husband and finding love again in her children, it was evident that something fundamental had changed in the theatre from the eruption of applause as the performers and Petrina took their bows onstage. Petrina Kow has gathered an incredible superteam of beautiful women both inside and out, and has masterfully coaxed out some amazingly moving material from every single one of them. We walked away from the theatre with a little more life than before, and in that moment, felt infinitely powerful with all the potential in the world.

Photo Credit: Kelly Fan

Performance attended 25/1/18

Walking in Beauty plays at the Esplanade Recital Studio from 25th – 27th January. Tickets available from SISTIC

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