Writer and performer Merlynn Tong is a splash of refreshing icy cold water to Brisbane theatre audiences’ faces. Her vibrant personality, powerful face, delicate body, and hard-hitting content is a force to be reckoned with. Ma Ma Ma Mad travels through time, across countries and ricochets through the perspectives of multiple characters. With vulnerability and honesty Merlynn not only tells her mother’s story, but the stories of all the influential people in her life growing up. Some reenactments are hilarious, others are heartbreaking, but all have hints of Merlynn and, more importantly, are loaded with powerful truth.
Ma Ma Ma Mad is set in the karaoke bar where Merlynn’s mother used to work, where she grew up, and where stories have been stored. Merlynn alone sets off to tell these stories in snaps between pivotal characters from her own upbringing. Merlynn’s hilarious, poetic, and brutally honest approach to each of these characters, stories and traumatic situations is instantly rendered brave. What’s more, these stories and perspectives are important to be told. Merlynn tells the story of her mother out of love and dedication, however the audience receives it in a need to discuss issues of loss, depression, suicide and abuse.
While the show is described as her mother’s journey, Merlynn manages to tell the majority of the stories through hints of her own presence or influence on others’ lives. Whether Merlynn was a witness to the events, was a notable influence on one of the characters lives, or the sole character within a story, she was always there. Living through each of the events just as her mother did, and carrying the powerful truth of outliving her mother from the age of fourteen.
Director Shane Pike delivers a fantastic visual accompaniment to Merlynn’s powerful presence and innovative stories. Through simplistic yet effective costume changes from a coat rack sat to the side of the karaoke bar screen Merlynn seamlessly changes from one unique character to the next (and when these transitions aren’t seamless, Merlynn makes you laugh along with her while she waits for sound cues or costume changes). The show itself includes elegant yet forceful lighting changes, humorous yet touching karaoke sing alongs, and physical sequences that delve into the very crux of both Merlynn’s mother’s experiences and her own.
While Merlynn has undoubtedly undergone heartbreak, turmoil and trauma, her losses become her own gains to share with her audiences. Merlynn returns to her past to tell stories of devastating lows, but more importantly admirable perseverance and bravery. I am personally grateful Merlynn has overcome the challenges of her past to bring something special to our theatres and our hearts.
– Written by Rhumer Diball December 5th 2015
MA MA MA MAD PRESENTED BY WAX LYRICAL PRODUCTIONS & BRISBANE POWERHOUSE
THUR DEC 3– SUN DEC 6, 2015.
Photo Credit Shane Pike.