Permanence will leave you disturbed and even a little unsettled but that is for the better. Rating: 4/5
Leaving the NAFA Studio Theatre at 9.40pm on a Friday night, there was no easy way to sum up what I had just experienced. More than just storytelling, Permanence left me thinking about relationships, morality and abuse – something it promised to do. And that is the hallmark of a play well done – when it leaves certain gaps for the audience to fill in but not too much that we begin to poke holes in the narrative.
Exceptionally well-paced, the script allowed sufficient time to build a world around the characters, helping us understand who they were and their motivations. As we begin to identify with them, conflict erupts and a world previously in equilibrium begins to tremble and threaten to tear apart everything that had been constructed. The tension and pressure are almost palpable in the small studio theatre.
The set is minimalistic but cozy and provides the audience an unobstructed view of everything that is going on. This is important because multiple things do happen at once in Permanence, so it is best to be attentive. The use of space is effective as characters drift throughout the set and engage with one another across it. Different areas also demarcate different points in time, which is helpful with the script jumping between past, present and future rather frequently, sometimes posing a challenge for the audience who is trying to keep pace. Lighting too, is masterfully utilized to focus audience attention and draw out tension.
However, the key achievement of Permanence is in its ability to spring surprises on its audience, ensuring that the script never falls into the realm of predictability. It uses these plot twists artfully to draw out the central theme of relationship and abuse. It questions who is right and who is wrong and if such a thing even exists. Psychological, emotional and physical abuse are brought out in the spotlight, forcing the audience to confront this reality and recognize the subtle ways they surface in relationships. All in, the message that Permanence brings across is relevant and poignant for our times as moral authority no longer goes unquestioned.
Audience members need not be worried about being left behind by the script’s use of symbolism and positioning - while it is skillfully done, the play also makes explicit the meaning and intention behind these tools but without going too far that the audience feels spoon-fed.
It should also be mentioned that having made its debut in 2017, the 2019 remake of Permanence is an excellent adaptation meant to capture and better reflect the local context. Hence, one can expect the use of Singlish and colloquial dialogues, which adds a dose of relatability and realism. While it is still a tad odd to hear Singlish being uttered with a thespian’s measured diction, nonetheless, it makes the conversations between the characters more compelling and natural as we would imagine the banter between Singaporean couples to be.
All in, Permanence reflects Gina’s amazing ability to weave a compelling storyline with strong visual imagery and creative dialogue. It is a play that begs audiences to dig deep and ask themselves if life is really what they have made it out to be.
Permanence is the first instalment in the four-part series of The Wright Stuff Festival by The Toy Factory. This is an initiative two years in the making, aimed at bringing new playwrights and their debut plays to the local theatre scene. Having set the bar very high, Permanence showcases the effort and potential of these budding playwrights, leaving audiences wanting more.