Time heals everything.
In many ways, With Time is the culmination of Drama Box resident artist Chng Yi Kai’s work over the last year or so, with his experience in researching mental health, to facilitating interactive, forum-style theatre. The succinct 60 minute or so production deals with one of the most pressing matters today – mental health, and uses verbatim theatre as a means to get audiences to reflect on the seemingly impossible journey of recovery.
Performed by Mitchell Fang, Shuyi Ching, Jodi Chan and Suhaili Safari, With Time sees the four actors playing four characters based on individuals Yi Kai reached out to in his course of research. Before the show begins proper, Yi Kai and Ahmad Musta’ain B Khamis begin with a simple exercise – contributing to a Mentimeter word cloud with words we associate with recovery, to be used as a callback during the show as we hear these real accounts of youths undergoing mental health issues. Due to the sensitive nature of the work, the team also provided a decompression room, and a member from SOS in case audience members were triggered by the content.
In terms of the work itself, With Time adopts an ongoing theme of water. Scenes are structured according to different states of water, from ‘streaming’ to ‘dripping’, representing the intensity of each character’s mental health issues, ebbing and flowing as the performance progresses, and represented on the screen in the back. The set comprises of various receptacles hanging from the ceiling, which the actors fill with water over the course of the play. It feels almost like an art installation, as lights dance in a circular motion from time to time to emphasise their shadows on the white flooring, as if representing these issues weighing down on their minds.
As for the performance, all four cast members do well at bringing us through the journey each character takes. These are ordinary people we encounter in daily life, but the beauty of the verbatim piece is how Yi Kai has teased out moments of reflection that make it such a resonant work. Standout moments include a line from Suhaili where she reaches a symbolic end for her character, and the importance of finding the strength and hope one needs to become the person you are meant to be. Jodi, on the other hand, has the longest journey of all, with her character experiencing the death of her mother, and sending her spiralling into the depths of depression – a devastating dive she brings out in her facial expressions and body collapsing from weakness.
Ultimately though, what With Time really does is exist as a tool for an intimate, assembly-style programme. As the performance draws to a close, Yi Kai and Ahmad open it back up to the audience again to contribute new words to the Mentimeter word cloud, and reflect on all that they’ve watched. Of course, there are no answers, but at the very least, With Time establishes how non-linear, and often tumultuous the journey to recovery from mental health issues can be.
With Time both serves and is limited by its simple goal – of providing a framework for audiences to consider the complexities of recovery, to understand that such issues do exist in society, and to perhaps, begin showing greater empathy. For a work under his own name, With Time is a good first step for Yi Kai in having his own independent voice be heard as a theatremaker, showcasing care, concern and an eye for artistically representing difficult issues onstage. Give it a few more productions and bigger ambition, and this is potential sure to sprout into something truly spectacular and moving in time to come.
Photo Credit: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
With Time played from 27th to 29th October 2021 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. More information available here