The Age of Bones

A witty, beautiful and surreal story about an Indonesian boy falsely imprisoned in Australia.
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The cast of The Age of Bones. Photograph credit (c) Teater Satu Lampung.

Australian playwright and poet Sandra Thibodeaux was inspired to write The Age of Bones after hearing about the wrongful imprisonment of 60 Indonesian boys who were working on refugee ships. The work crafted by Thibodeaux, along with theatre companies Satu Bulan and Teater Satu, draws on both Indonesian and European theatre traditions. This culturally hybrid form is ideal for telling a story that crosses cultural and national boundaries.

The story is that of Ikan, a teenage boy from an island in Indonesia, who is offered seemingly lucrative work on a refugee boat but is arrested by the Australian authorities upon his arrival. The story of his struggle to escape the prison, and of his parents’ anguish at their missing son, is told through shadow puppetry and live action. The piece has the quality of a fable or allegory, although it’s refreshingly lacking in the reductive moral judgments usually found in allegory. In its visual expression, the work slips back and forth between realism and surrealism. Ikan’s Indonesian home is portrayed in a realistic – if idealistic – mode, whilst Australia takes its turn to be exoticised in surreal vignettes as the strange and frightening ‘down-under’ of the deep sea.

The narrative of the piece is gleefully broken up by our old narrator and his puppeteer side-kick. These two performers bounce off each other’s energies expertly; and there is some great comic puppetry to go with their clowning. The whole cast give energetic, dedicated performances, easily shifting gears from then naturalistic to the melodramatic to the pantomime.

Any false notes in the piece come from the character of the Australian lawyer. Although the part is well acted, much of this character’s role feels tacked on. Dialogue about her estranged son is clunky, and adds an unnecessary subplot to an otherwise tight narrative. And her claim that Australia has ‘lost [its] moral compass’ isn’t nearly as compelling as a moment when the two Indonesian clown characters look out at the audience and taunt us that our taxes paid for Ikan’s sorry situation. In the mouth of the Australian lawyer, the statement feels like sentimental sloganeering; in the mouths of the clowns, the sentiment is irrefutable and disarming.

The Age of Bones has just finished its run in Melbourne, but is setting off for a tour around Australia. Keep an eye out for it in your nearest city – it’s an important story, playfully told, and will be appealing and accessible for all ages.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5

The Age of Bones
A Satu Bulan, Teater Satu and Performing Lines Co-Production
Writer/Co-Producer: Sandra Thibodeaux
Co-Directors: Iswadi Pratama & Alex Galeazzi
Translator: Kadek Krishna Adidharma
Set Designer: Dann Barber
Original Design: Iswadi Pratama
Costume Designers: Imas Sobariah & Dann Barber
AV Design: Mic Gruchy
Composer/Musical Director: Panos Couros
Lighting Designer: Philip Lethlean
Puppeteers: I Made Gunanta & I Wayan Sira
Production Manager: Rhys Robinson
Stage Manager: Gina Bianco
Lighting Associate: Siobhain Geaney
Producer: Pippa Bailey (Performing Lines)
Performers: Deri Efwanto, Mohammad Gandi Maulana, Imam Setia Hagi, Budi Laksana, Imas Sobariah, Kadek Hobman & Ella Watson-Russell

22 Feb – 5 Mar | AsiaTOPA – La Mama Courthouse, VIC
8 – 11 March | Ainslie & Gorman Arts Centres, Canberra, ACT
15 – 18 March | Australian Theare for Young People, Wharf 1, Sydney, NSW
22 – 25 March, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, NSW
30 Mar – 9 Apr | Browns Mart Arts, Darwin, NT

Georgia Symons
About the Author
Georgia Symons is a theatre-maker and game designer based in Melbourne. For more information, go to