Storytelling behind experience

Ma Ma Ma Mad (Wax Lyrical Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

December 3 – 6

“Ma Ma Ma Mad” comes with a personal note from the artists left on audience seats…”Suicide can have a devastating impact on the families of love ones left behind. Researchers … have found that children who are under the age of 18 when their parents [especially mothers] commit suicide are three times more likely to commit suicide themselves.” Despite this thematic foreboding, the show that follows is a story of hope and love in fond remembrance of writer/performer Merlynn Tong’s mother, mixed with a welcome dose of humour from within its Chinese Karaoke bar setting.

The Karaoke bar is where Tong’s mother used to work as a Mama-san and, therefore, where Tong grew up. Unsurprisingly its recall is filled with recollection of the practicalities of the business and its colourful characters, of whom audiences catch glimpse from the Tong’s first passionate karaoke performance.


Tong is a multi-talented actor, moving in and out of characters such as her mother, her maid and her ex-lovers with ease, bringing each to individual and often gloriously comic life, capturing repression and excitability with equal effect. Through simple yet effective costume changes she transforms from one character to the next, never dropping role, even in light of missed technical cues (“Disneyland has music”).  Although the Karaoke setting remains steadfast in background, lighting serves to establish alternative settings and facilitates easy return for karaoke sing-alongs.

“Ma Ma Ma Mad” is, however, ultimately, about Tong’s mother’s suicide, when Tong was just 14 years old. And, as is usually the case with shows based on personal experience, there is an underlying poignancy to the work thanks to its honesty, not just in reflection upon the life-altering event itself but the consequential maternal voice that has lingered in Tong’s art. However, it is would perhaps have been more cathartic for audiences to not have such an abrupt show ending.

“Ma Ma Ma Mad” is a special show in many ways and it is easy to appreciate its publication by Playlab this year. Of course it is wonderful to see Asian Australian tales on stage, but it is also rewarding to experience endearingly honest and entertaining stories such as this. It not only proves the truth of Tong’s reflection that she is a storyteller, but the comfort of storytelling of experiences being what makes us human.

Photo c/o –


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