Theatre review: Golden Blood

A desperate tale set in Singapore about the push and pull of siblings drawn into the underworld.

The intimate Griffin Theatre hosts the premiere of Merlynn Tong’s Golden Blood, an ambitious play exploring Singapore’s murky underworld. It is a two-hander, with Tong playing one of the two leads, simply called ‘Girl’ and Charles Wu playing her brother ‘Boy’. 

The play starts when Girl is 14 and her brother is 21. Their mother has just committed suicide, leaving Girl an orphan. Her brother has re-emerged seven years after leaving the family home and now wants to be her guardian. The fly in the ointment is that in those intervening years he has joined a gang. 

Tong playing a 14 year old strains credulity somewhat but she manages to capture a sense of wide-eyed innocence without being too cloying, and is increasingly assured as the play moves through time and Girl gets older. Wu is also a confident and capable performer and the two sustain a very entertaining 90 minutes. 

There are times when the play could easily sustain some extra cameo roles – there are scenes where we are invited to imagine extra people on stage – but the choice to keep it small is repaid by the chemistry between the two leads. There is also an artistic justification for this too; while there are other walk-on figures in Girl’s life, her brother remains the only constant. 

As Chinese-Singaporeans, the pair are torn between two worlds; or three worlds, if you include Girl’s infatuation with the idea of Australia, where she wants to be a vet and help save the koalas. This dream, however, is forced to the side lines as the vortex of the Singaporean underworld drags them both ever deeper.  

This is heady stuff for a 90 minute play and while there is certainly (more than) enough packed in to keep it interesting, towards the end of the play it seemed to me that its ambition outstripped what was possible in its scope.

Read: Opera review: Madama Butterfly, Opera Australia

After spending time creating the world of its protagonists and getting the audience invested in their story, the script reaches its denouement rather quickly, slightly undercutting its pathos. That said, this is a relatively minor complaint in what it is an impressive and compelling production. Tong is a voice to watch. 

Golden Blood, by Merlynn Tong
Griffin Theatre Company
DirectorTessa Leong
Set and Costume Designer: Michael Hankin
Lighting Designer: Fausto Brusamolino
Composer and Sound Designer: Rainbow Chan
Producer: Eloise Snape
DramaturgJennifer Medway
Effects Consultant: Emily Parsons-Lord
Stage Manager: Susie Henderson
Stage Manager: Jen Jackson
Cast: Merlynn Tong, Charles Wu
Tickets: $38-$62

Golden Blood will be performed until 30 July 2022

Ned Hirst is a lawyer and writer based in Sydney whose work has appeared in Overland, The Australian Law Journal and elsewhere. He tweets at @ned_hirst.