Review by Rowan Brunt
We are conditioned to believe that blood is thicker than water, our family has a depth of bond that we must honour regardless of rationality. Often we inherit qualities or become the product of our blood line and spend the early stages of adult life either moving through a form of acceptance or forging our own path. Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong dives deep into the connection between two siblings moving through the aftermath and repercussions of death and their obligation to tradition, family and each other. Presented at Griffin Theatre Company, SBW Stables Theatre, Tong’s newest work is in conjunction with Melbourne Theatre Company's Next Stage Writers Program.
Set after the death of their mother, Merlynn Tong paints the new reality of Girl (Merlynn Tong) & Boy (Charles Wu) in modern day Singapore as they come together after a 7 year absence and make the choice to to commit to that rejoining their family, shrouded in the veil of failing wealth and a corrupt underworld lurking. Girl 14 and her brother 21 collide together and make the choice to commit to each other in this new constant; Girl seeking stability due to never getting that from their mother and Boy coming back to family after 7 years working with a gang and his new“chosen” family. Tong throughout the piece has achieved a witty and fast paced dialogue that holds the audience as the text flows between the siblings, tiptoeing between comedy of this situationship and drama in the darkness they are and will both face.
The beauty of this piece lies in the intersection between the two and how over the years their lives interweave into a complex braid of tangles. Girl is grasping at establishing an identity and place in this world as she matures through the murkiness of her situation, whilst Boy runs an opposite trajectory starting with an assured front and slowly has to face past trauma and an unspoken obligation to tradition he struggles to fulfil. Tong’s transformation throughout the piece is wonderful to bear witness, watching Girl grow up, navigate her ambitions and try to figure her place within this world and this microcosm of family. Wu similarly deals with the depths of Boys psychology and inner demons beautifully. The chemistry between the two actors is a strength of the show which provides the audience
What really makes Tongs writing sing is this intersection of the dysfunctional family comedy undercut with the darkness surrounding the siblings, the moments nuanced and simple but enough to draw the audience in deeper. These moments are comforting and connect us deeper to the characters' meaning as challenges arise it is harder, even for the audience watching, to make a guided decision of rationality versus the obligation to blood.
Director Tessa Leong has navigated this piece beautifully as structurally following the relationship over many years without expert consideration could be challenging for an audience to follow and engage in. What stands out is how Leong plays with the assumed knowledge of her audience, some jokes just for the Mandarin Chinese & Singaporean audience, some for anyone with siblings and then some wider that are commentary on the human experience. Tongs wit and Leong guiding hand know how to highlight these moments which would make for a unique experience depending on an audience member's lens.
Golden Blood at SBW Stables Theatre Griffin Theatre is a wonderfully engaging piece that is expanding the Australian theatre landscape and places Merlynn Tong as one to watch for her unique voice.