Permanence is a story centred around the protagonist Blanche, following her through her life journey and the men she meets along the way. The play juxtaposes her current and past life by alternating between the two storylines.
The younger Blanche was wild, carefree and very much witty. She fell in love with Chris, a bartender, on one of her typical nights out, had a one-night stand with him while he was still attached to his girlfriend and later began a pretty unstable relationship with him. This led Blanche to call it quits a few months later, when she also packed her luggage to leave for Germany to further her studies. It took a year before she returned and attempted to reconcile with Chris.
The older Blanche found herself in an unloving but cordial marriage with her husband, Nathan. She appeared as a completely different person – calm and indifferent - almost unrecognisable from the Blanche of the past, so much so it took me some time to accept that they were the same person! After a miscarriage, Nathan tried to convince her to try for another baby, much to her unwillingness.
As the story unfolded, infidelity, abortion and marital rape rears their ugly heads. Blanche hurried into a marriage even with feelings for her ex-lover, thinking that she had finally settled down with a man who was able to embrace her flaws and past, only to find herself trapped in a cycle of constant misery. This is compounded towards the end of the play, when Nathan delivers a final blow that broke her, but at the same time, also provided her with the impetus to potentially stand up for herself. This could hit home with many young adults today, unsure and confused if the partner they are currently with is the right decision after all. After all, getting married and applying for that Build-To-Order (BTO) flat is a significant commitment.
The stellar performance by the cast and the intimate setting in the 150-seat NAFA Studio Theatre that allowed audience to see the performers close up made it easy for viewers to be thoroughly immersed in the storyline. I found the beginning of the play particularly interesting, when the younger Blanche scorns the older Blanche for being a typical housewife, unaware that she would become one in a few years to come. The open and unfiltered dialogues between the younger Blanche and Nathan also provided the play with much needed humour to relieve the latter part of the play that focused more on the darker themes.
My greatest takeaway from Permanence was that life is more than just, as quoted by Blanche, “Finding a spouse, busying yourself with kids and finally aim to die peacefully in your sleep”. Blanche lost her personality in exchange for stability, settling into a marriage with a man she saw as her second choice. In the end, one cannot help but feel sympathy for the protagonist - a victim of her own bad decisions. It was rather ironic that the younger Blanche had once scoffed at that line she spoke about, declaring it in a sarcastic tone and thinking that it will never be her life, but she ends up in such a situation herself. The play ends abruptly as the older Blanche saves the younger Blanche from the hands of her husband. Perhaps, it was a reference of how one can escape from sexual assault and unequal treatments in marriage or relationships when help was present. AWARE, a non-profit organisation, one of the many platforms providing help in this area, was promoted at the end of the play and the audience were encouraged to refer anyone that they know who were facing a similar situation as Blanche, regardless of gender, to the organisation. However, I was left confused because of the lack of a proper closure for Blanche and Nathan’s toxic marriage, as well Blanche and Chris’ ill-fated relationship.
All in all, Permanence was definitely a play that struck a chord with Singaporeans because of the relatable themes that many of us in our 20s or 30s may face – marriage, BTO and having kids. The play challenges us to look beyond these societal expectations and live a life that we wanted for ourselves. In the case of Blanche, marriage and having kids were unfortunately not the life she had envisioned for herself, and it was a pity that she brought it upon herself.