Golden Blood

4 Jul

Plays like this make you want to shout that Australian theatre is finally growing up – and if such partisan, attention-seeking hyperbole belongs anywhere, surely it belongs in the writings of a drama critic.

Said more plainly, Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong, set in Singapore and presenting only Singaporean characters, is glorious Australian theatre.

She is orphaned at fourteen. Her estranged brother, seven years older and a petty criminal, becomes her guardian.

The developing relationship between the siblings is beautiful to watch; bewilderment and uncertainty vie with affection and a need to belong, creating scenes both comic and moving.

Director Tessa Leong elicits terrific performances from a super cast. Merlynn Tong takes innocence and intelligence and makes a lovable dreamer. Charles Wu takes amiability and bravado and makes a charming schemer. (And schemes and dreams might be as immiscible as oil and water – but out of such those roadside rainbows…..)

Tong has chosen her material well; obviously drama does conflict (do the two siblings want the same thing?) and obviously drama does duplicity (has the brother really reformed?) but, at its most humane, drama reminds us that conflict and duplicity exist, not only in relationships, but within individuals. Essentialists everywhere assert there is a real self, but Tong’s characterisation of the gangster brother is an empathy-evoking reminder that cynicism is far easier to criticise than to do. We tell stories to be believed, and one person, at least, is always listening: I say I’m doing this for your good, and I find myself very convincing.  

Such portraits of the human experience engender forgiveness – and we could all do with a little more of that.

Paul Gilchrist

Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong

SBW Stables Theatre until 30 July

Image by Brett Boardman

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