Boy, Lost (Belloo Creative)
Queensland Theatre, Diane Cilento Studio
October 29 – November 20
Part of Belloo Creative’s mission is to bring people and stories out of the shadows. Appropriately then, the female-led, award-winning company’s latest production, “Boy, Lost” covers the true story of one family’s loss and redemption. The years-in-the-making world premiere work, which has been adapted for the stage by Katherine Lyall-Watson from Kristina Olsson’s award-winning memoir of the same name, tells a tale of big themes in an intimate way, well suited to Queensland Theatre’s black box-style studio.
The company in residence at Queensland Theatre in 2019 – 2020 not only values the space and all of its possibilities, but respects that story being told and the audience with whom they are sharing it, beginning with an explanation of what is to follow, the truth at its core and the storytelling device of two main narrators, the lost boy of the work’s title, Peter (Morgan Francis) and Sharon (Zoë Houghton, who is Kristina Olsson’s daughter and therefore playing her real-life aunt). Things also start with warning that “Boy, Lost” contains strong and potentially triggering references to domestic violence, child institutionalisation, child abuse, ableism, and a deceased First Nations person.
Even with all of its dark themes, the story is eloquently written, especially in description of mother Yvonne (Hsiao-Ling Tang) through the eyes of daughter Sharon. Indeed, there are some lovely motifs and metaphoric descriptions that are woven throughout the piece. It is a crafted script and also a considered realisation of it that says so much with sometimes so few words, trusting that not all plot points need to be overtly addressed in dialogue to be appreciated by the audience.
It starts when 17-year-old Yvonne and the exotic twice-her-age,
Michael Mick (Stephen Geronimos) meet post-war in a Queen Street café. Soon he has lured her on the Sunlander to North Queensland and so her family’s story begins. Although things jump around a bit in terms of the presentation of its timeline, from there things travel down the east coast of Australia and across decades as we follows her boy Peter’s search for belonging alongside a family’s journey from loss to redemption.
Each actor plays multiple characters (including themselves at moments), jumping in and out of different roles with simple prop or costume enhancements, however, as an audience, we always know what is happening and soon the story becomes pieced together as the trauma hinted at in introduction is realised. Although they are often key components of the story being told, props are more symbolic than functional, which finesses things, along with its physical storytelling style and the inset of some songs composed by Morgan Francis.
Performers slip in and out of scenes though never leave the stage, such is Penny Challen simple, yet involved, set design. Colin Smith, for example plays both Yvonne’s mother and also Yvonne’s second husband, with the latter serving as a reminder to us that for all the bad in the world, there are good people. And Stephen Geronimos makes for a menacing Mick, father to Peter, and also kind cricket-loving friend Stevie, one of the angels of Peter’s life. This also allows for moments of levity to lighten what could have been an overwhelmingly bleak account, especially from Zoë Houghton as youngster Sharon.
Caroline Dunphy’s snappy direction ensures that the show is economical in its storytelling. At 75-minutes, it is a tightly woven and rich true tale that takes its audience along on a moving, emotional journey. Confronting subject matter is handled with sensitivity, stylised in its shadowed and silhouetted representation, yet still shocking in its impact, thanks to the work of sound and lighting designers Guy Webster and David Walters respectively. And thanks to the moving performances of Morgan Francis and especially Hsiao-Ling Tang, we are totally invested in their story.
Experience of “Boy, Lost” is like undertake of a masterclass of storytelling in its commentary on the strength of familial ties and legacy of trauma that has woven itself into a family’s DNA. This is not just good independent theatre, but good theatre pure and simple…. and its original stagecraft and engaging storytelling mean that it could easily appear as part of any main stage program. Not only is it an authentically told, deeply human story, but a very real one, that happened to not just this one family, but others in our country’s history also. Its narration reminder of this makes the real-story timeline and information on display as we leave the theatre, even more meaningful and its ultimate story of survival all the more uplifting.
Photos c/o – Cinnamon Smith