Far from the macrocosmic cityscape of Singapore, Golden Blood, a two-cast play, begins with an awkward encounter between Girl (played by Merlynn Tong, who also wrote the play) and Boy (Charles Wu) in Girl’s apartment. The distorted dynamic parallels an uncomfortable first date filled with tension and formalities, only for us to discover that this is not a date, but a reunion of two estranged siblings.
Drawing loosely from Tong’s own life, the story begins after Girl and Boy’s mother dies. Twenty-one-year-old Boy visits Girl, who is seven years his younger, offering to become her guardian. The siblings very quickly interpret the number seven as the Chinese symbol of both good luck and bad luck – a subjective duality that director Tessa Leong deconstructs throughout the show, which also spans seven years of their relationship.
The 14-year-old Girl is a wide-eyed teenager, often seen clutching her toy koala, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian in Australia with a feverish reverence. After some convincing, she is excited to sign off for Boy to become her legal guardian. He promises to make them both rich. Girl’s passion and enthusiasm is supplemented with a softness and vulnerability which Tong at times draws out a little too dramatically. Girl appears too juvenile for her age, however what Tong lacks for Girl in her youth she brilliantly compensates for in Girl’s seamless evolution as a 16, 18 and eventually a 21 year old.
The depth of Tong’s Girl is evident in the consistent battle with her core values. Boy becomes both a friend and parental figure for Girl, resulting in a conflict between Girl’s own core values and the values she has internalised through Boy. The three-pronged tug-of-war between culture, wealth and legacy is the driving force for her actions and behaviour. As the fractures between these values become deeper, this is when we see Tong perform her finest scenes. The audience is left in awe, witnessing Girl harness her softness to reposition herself in both her relationship with herself and with her brother.
The antithesis of Girl, Wu provides a strong performance as Boy. Boy fulfils in his own path to the older sibling trope, attempting to be a provider, adviser, and parent for Girl. He has an air of smugness and self-assuredness that can only come with the position of being the eldest sibling (only an older sibling would call themselves the number one model citizen of Singapore, whilst being a drug dealer nicknamed ‘the king of ketamine’). Boy’s unresolved anger against his mother shrouds his responses and outlook, and is the catalyst for his obsession with wealth. The jarring binary between the benefits reaped against the sacrifices incurred for reaching such wealth for Boy reads like a critique on the consequences of capitalism, especially for those who are not Crazy Rich Asians rich.
The play is grounded by Fausto Brusamolino’s lighting and visual imagery. The lighting designer’s manipulation of colour hues keeps the audience on its edge when the pacing of the show slows down, providing a heightened emotional tension between scenes. The saturation of bold colours is broken by moments of soft gold. It is these moments of soft lighting where the audience is most gripped by Girl and Boy.
Where the story falters is in allocating too much time to establishing context. The first act, as well as most of the second act, are invested in providing cultural context for the play as well as establishing the familial relationship between Girl and Boy. Michael Hankin’s set meticulously provides a sound cultural backdrop, making Girl and Boy’s explanation, at times, excessive. The cost of this is a slow progression of plot, the lacklustre development leaving the audience a little restless and unsure about where the play is heading.
The chemistry between Wu and Tong is the show’s greatest strength. Tong’s script executes the bantering and bickering nature of sibling relationships with precision. Tong and Wu are in control, forgetting the limited space they have to work with in Griffin Theatre’s awkwardly-sized home, the Stables Theatre in Kings Cross. The audience are like a fly on the wall, hanging onto every word. Although the play addresses heavy issues, the nature of their relationship provides an excellent space for great comedic quips (like when Boy is forced to have the safe sex talk with Girl after catching her with her boyfriend).
Golden Blood is an enjoyable 90 minutes of theatre, which despite the pacing, has a strong casting duo, some hilarious moments, and the emotional depth required for a good dramatic comedy.
Golden Blood play's at Griffin Theatre's SBW Stables Theatre until July 30, 2022.