Blue Bones (Playlab Theatre)
Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre
February 2 – 12
The award winning “Blue Bones” begins with its performer Merlynn Tong crouched on the ground centre stage encircled by light, and so it is clear from the outset that this story of a woman’s turbulent journey through domestic violence is set to be an intimate one. Her first love Tom, she tells us, is etched into her bones. We see this ourselves through backdrop x-ray video projection of her skeleton. Clearly, her experience of schoolgirl relationship with him in Singapore still resonates strongly at the core of her identity. The exact nature of the legacy unfolds as she proceeds to unpack the true story behind being the school’s perfect couple, with view to discovery of just how he got himself under her skin.
As experience widens out to become the textured world in which the recalled story is placed, Tong shares its details through narration and assumption of all of its characters in anecdotal recall. This is where the biggest strength of the show’s engagement lies. Tong is an accomplished performer whose distinct characterisations are totally on-point, not only in and of themselves, but in her swift and seamless transitions back and forth between so many diverse personas.
From the excited hyperbole of the protagonist’s teenage gush about her boyfriend’s dreamy appearance and her friend Cindy’s gossipy insistence upon details of the romance, to gangster brother Atlantis’ bravado, she convincingly transforms into different characters. Of early comic note is her mimicry of the idiosyncrasies of her subject teachers and then arcade-gamer-in-action Tom. In each instance her facial expressions and body language ensure easy inhabit of characters of diverse physicalities and vocal nuances.
The script, written by Tong, is also clever in its construction with subtle foreshadowing even within its descriptive detail. And a through-line of dance also helps to tread the audience from its humourous beginnings through to climatic wallop of public domestic violence that signposts the work’s tonal shift. Dynamic, interactive projections and lighting (AV design by Nathan Sibthorpe and Lighting Design by David Walters), elevated in realism from its previous season, enliven things too, almost giving the city of Singapore itself co-character status, with lighting, for example, shading us into its tropical showers.
A 90 minute (no interval), one-hander is an ambitious undertaking, yet “Blue Bones” does not miss a beat in its ultimate journey towards celebration of resilience. Audience engagement never wanes thanks to the honesty with which it takes us from light-hearted laughter to the bruised shades of ultimate empowerment and realisation that experiences of violence are not a natural part of having an adult relationship.
Photos c/o – Justine Walpole