This review comes from Night Writes guest reviewer Josephine Lee
Merlynn Tong’s Golden Blood is a feverish, drug-induced, dream-like, fire-cracker adventure of two Singaporean Chinese orphaned siblings who are forced to become adults when their parents die before teaching them how.
After their mother passed away, the estranged son Boy (Charles Wu), aged 21, dreams of becoming rich, finally returns home where his sister Girl (Merlynn Tong), aged 14, cuddles her toy koala and dreams of coming to Australia to become a vet and “save all the marsupials”. Left with no inheritance but the family home and each other, they venture through gangsters, drugs, and money schemes to achieve their dreams whilst trying to maintain the ultimate core value: keeping the family together. Through this, Tong’s honest writing, and the deliciously feel-good sounds and rhythm of Singlish, Tong explores and tears apart the ideas of inheritance, family trauma, filial piety, and the value of putting family first in the Chinese diaspora, and leaves us with a sucker-punch ending.
Michael Hankin’s set design transformed the black Griffin Theatre stage into having a golden floor with scattered golden square sheets, plastic red stools, and a foldable children’s pink and white spotted mattress. But my favourite was the white bookcase full of vital items and props used throughout the play, which included notable and nostalgic things you would find in any Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese household (and you could have a good close look at it as you left the theatre after the show). Fausto Brusamolino’s meticulous lighting design helped create the naturalistic and dream-like settings of the play from the vibrant blue and red night club lighting to the warm orange candle-like ghost lighting. My favourite was the versatile lighting wall which would transform appropriately for different purposes, either create mesmerising ripple effects for a transition or a blue and orange gradient for a beautiful sunset or become a golden plain for the sleek backdrop of a TV ad. Additionally, Rainbow Chan’s sound design helped drive the story forward and, more importantly, elevated moments to become incredibly evocative. Her nightmarish metal Chinese drumming pushed the story through time jumps and transitions, which surprisingly never grew stale despite being used repeatedly. Her design of the sounds of the gangsters and other people in the story would fill the absence of their physical presence while there was the particular moment that was magically polished with her bell-like sound design, which I will not spoil so you’ll have to come to the show to know what I mean. But what I loved most was when all the designs came together to create a versatile space that transported us from a small apartment to a night club to a bungalow to a corporate office whilst also maintaining the feverish drug-induced dream-like and sometimes nightmarish atmosphere.
Merlynn Tong’s performance as the Girl was riveting as you watched her grow up before your eyes on stage. Honestly, I believed she was whatever age she was acting, 14, 16, 18 or 21 years old, thanks to her well-sculpted and subtle changes in voice and physicality, such as from the optimistic naive springy yet submissive 14 year old to the confident, hardened 21 year old businesswoman. Charles Wu’s performance as the Boy who naively wants to, but tragically struggles to become the man of the house, was wild yet controlled, with his meticulous comedic timing and dynamic physicality and vocal changes. But what was beautiful was when their performances both come together to create a truthful yet heartbreaking one as you sit and watch these two siblings struggle to achieve their dreams and maintain their relationship between themselves and their familial roles.
Tong’s play, along with the well-nurtured and curated direction of Tessa Leong, has created a story that is reflective of the familial and individual struggles of those in the Chinese diaspora, despite it being specifically set in Singapore. For those in the Chinese diaspora, I believe this will be a joyfully comforting yet gutturally and confronting experience. And although it may seem like a culturally specific story, with some additional jokes for Singaporeans and Malaysians amongst the wider Australian audience, this is a story about inheritance, family, loyalty, betrayal, and growing up and finding your own path. A story everyone lovingly and painfully recognises and relates to.
Golden Blood is running at the SBW Stables Theatre from June 24th – July 30th
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