Blue Bones (Playlab)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
May 4 – 13
“Blue Bones” may not be a local story, but as the story of Brisbane playwright/performer Merlyn Tong, it is just as engaging, thanks to the honesty at the heart of its turbulent journey. On stage, as in real life, the story emerges from Tong being told by a doctor of a crack in her spine – the result of trauma from many years ago. And so she recounts story of the scars left by her school-days ex-boyfriend, including exactly how he managed to get under her skin, taking audiences, in the process, back to Singapore and all of its idiosyncrasies and melting pot of cuisines.
The resulting stories of school days and friendships are filled with realistic, recounted dialogue and much early humour as Tong injects anecdotes into the personal story by enacting every character of her recollection, teachers and friends alike, each with their own idiosyncrasies and individual nuances, and jumping between their portrayals with ease.
Then romance begins in the an arcade game parlour; when the claw machine champ meets a Dance Revolution devotee, its meant to be. She has her own dance competition goals and after-school Burger King job, but she has never been kissed like that before so love soon follows. And before long they are their school’s perfect couple, filling their days with the fun of theme park visits and Mcdonalds meals. But behind perfection lies increasingly verbal and then physical abuse, necessarily uncomfortable it its recall.
It is an emotional experience, as memory plays often are, especially in Tong’s recount of living every day at the edge of uncertainty. The descriptions of her seasons of abuse are evocative and Tong’s performance is often tortured in its truthfulness. Over the course of her 90 minutes alone on stage, she takes audiences on an intimate and very vulnerable account without over-play of its pathos.
Adding to audience engagement is the technical support of her story. Guy Webster and David Walters’ Sound and Lighting Design make for some haunting moments, particularly in work towards its cathartic conclusion. And the provision of backdrop photos and cartoon imagery of Singapore life that comes courtesy of Video Designer Nathan Sibthorpe enlivens the show akin to the appearance of a second character.
New plays are difficult because there isn’t a template to call upon. In her creation of a template in “Blue Bones” Merylnn Tong, along with Director Ian Lawson, has created a very special, outstanding theatrical work… original, idiosyncratic and ultimately uplifting. Indeed, this is an absorbing show that needs to be seen by as many young women (and men) as possible in reminder that whatever its shade, no bruise is okay.