Bi(cara) is a seductive, changeable animal that seizes the heart

Solo actress Sharda Harrison in Bi(cara).
Solo actress Sharda Harrison in Bi(cara).PHOTO: TAN ZEXUN

BI(CARA)

Pink Gajah Theatre

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Thursday

Centre 42 Black Box

If Bi(cara) were an animal, it would be a snake. It is charming one minute, drawing us in with a rippling sway of its body. Then it is still, quiet and meditative, coiling itself tight before striking in a deadly attack, managing to be both sexy and dangerous.

Embodying the serpent-like spirit animal is solo actress Sharda Harrison from Pink Gajah Theatre, who, in a compact 60 minutes, manages to pack in multiple depictions of human-animal relationships with great pathos.

These include her own personal journey with snakes, first as pets and then as an animal she learns to hate and fear.

The parts where Harrison speaks as herself play out rather awkwardly. When she addresses the audience at the beginning, there is a sense of over-articulation and -explanation that seems more apt for a younger audience.

However, Harrison has always been a strong physical performer, and the magic starts to happen when she physically embodies the snake, her body, all sinewy muscle contorting into coils, and her eyes turning beady.

There is also an especially thrilling moment towards the end when she sheds her skin in reptilian fashion.

With her hair down, Harrison is wild and appears to be in a trance. She may be a snake, but her power over the audience is like that of slick snake charmer at a street fair.

Her character work is also solid, again anchored by strong physical movements.

Leslie is the sassy and soft-hearted cat-loving auntie, all hunched shoulders and heavy shuffling. Das, the orangutan handler with anger and marital issues, is portrayed with monumental heft, his brutish and loutish facade concealing a softer side.

Both are lonely characters who turn to animals for companionship. Their stories, crafted by Harrison and her young co-writer Sabrina Dzulkifli, are told well to heartbreaking results.

The minimal set, together with video projections, light and music, support Harrison's performance without being obtrusive.

Where it does not work well is that it does not quite live up to its title. Bicara means "to talk" or "discuss" in Malay, but this element was lacking.

There is a scene where Harrison contemplates killing a cobra that is on the loose and incites the audience to chant, "Kill it, kill it." The audience does as told, albeit perfunctorily. This is a pity, because Harrison is making an interesting point about how humans are capable of violence when threatened.

Thankfully, a lot of other ideas come across more successfully - for example, the juxtaposition of the breakdown of Das' marriage alongside a real connection between him and an orangutan.

"You forget whois the animal, and who is the human," he says.

What makes things even more interesting is that Harrison comes from a family of animal lovers - her father is the ex-chief executive of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Bernard Harrison, who attended the opening show. Bi(cara) is inspired by a talk he gave, Why Do We Do What We Do?, about the way man treats animals.

Making the show even more of a family affair, her younger brother Sean, who is thevisual artist for Bi(cara), makes an appearance onstage as the mischievous little sibling and provides some much-needed lighter moments in the play.

With Bi(cara) hitting so close to home, it is no wonder that Harrison pours herself into the performance so intensely that she looks spent both emotionally and physically at multiple points in the play.

While it is personal, it is not insular. Harrison builds a world both expansive and intimate, searing yet welcoming. The final image of her looking at peace in a circle of flowers is apt - the message rings loud and clear: there is hope yet for all of us.

nabilahs@sph.com.sg

Bi(cara) is sold out.