Posts Tagged ‘merlynn tong


The Mathematics of Longing


The Mathematics of Longing

La Boite, The Farm & The Uncertainty Principle

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

June 2 – 23 2018


Reviewed by Nicole Reilly



My passion is to translate, if you will, the beauty of maths and physics into something visceral, narrative, human, ‘emotional’ if I dare. This play The Mathematics of Longing is an expression of that desire to merge two of my worlds, two of my ways of seeing, and to invite everyone to share the wonder of mathematics in a completely different and experiential environment. And it is also very much about uncertainty, not just the physics theory of The Uncertainty Principle, but uncertainty as it comes up close and personal, opening up possibilities, emotional journeys, tears, laughter, sadness and joy in human lives.

– Suzie Miller, playwright and co-creator.


An ambitious experiment in collaborative play-building between La Boite, The Farm and The Uncertainty Principle, The Mathematics of Longing is a fast-paced 60-minute non-linear collision of art, mathematics and humanity. As promised by playwright, Suzie Miller, the audience is invited to share in the wonder of mathematics. This is for some a frightening concept, but thankfully it’s tackled through the familiar lens of love…between a physicist (Todd McDonald) and a playwright writing about physics (Ngoc Phan), and their daughter (Merlynn Tong), and a rockstar and his artist girlfriend (The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Kate Harman, who are both thrilling to watch in these demanding physical and emotional roles).




Each scene, or event, opens with a monologue detailing a mathematical theorem, providing a framework within which to contextualise the on-stage actions. And assumedly, due to the collaborative nature of the work, the designers (lighting by Ben Hughes, sound by Regurgitator’s Ben Ely and set by Ross Manning), are able to incorporate the beauty of mathematics into all aspects of the show quite effortlessly. It is somewhat apt, however, that after outlining a mathematical theorem, what follows is an experiment, executed with varying degrees of success. One such success is of attachment theory, with the rockstar and his girlfriend entangled in red cabling whilst below them, the physicist and the playwright attempt to divide their belongings as they navigate their separation. Even in relative stillness above, allowing our focus to go to the physicist and his wife as they collect and sort the domino-effect-fallen books surrounding the stage, the entanglement of the two dancers is nothing short of entrancing.



In an earlier scene, an alternate universe sees the physicist and the playwright lament the loss of their daughter. An attempt at profundity is made, but this is an example of when a director is necessary, rather than five co-creators. Full of potential, primed to be heart-wrenching, it fails to reach the emotional heights needed to affect the audience, or even to portray a real experience. The scene lacks vision and clarity, and feels as though every line between the physicist and the playwright was chosen for its profundity, lacking authenticity as a result. An underplayed scene that when revisited later and re-contextualised to take us into a different universe with a different set of circumstances, never offers stakes high enough for us to care.





By far the most satisfying experiment of this new work is between the physicist and his daughter, as he explains the sheer beauty of maths with such passion and intensity that the audience can’t help but smile and be swept up in his delight. Miller’s writing of her lived experience is poignant and emotive, carried with ease by both McDonald and Tong. The additional layers, in the transformation of the stacks of books lining the stage into dominoes and a helix, as well as the installation-like floating and spinning tubes of light, vividly illustrate the beauty of mathematically seeing the world. Cleverly, as the lights spiral above the audience, that sea of faces, now lit and enlightened, is revealed.

The Mathematics of Longing, in its debut season, is a promising first draft, enjoyable and full of potential, though at times it feels like an unfinished version of Nick Payne’s brilliant Constellations.





Blue Bones


Blue Bones

Brisbane Powerhouse & PlayLab

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

May 4 – 13 2017


Reviewed by Katy Cotter 



Closing night of Merlynn Tong’s Blue Bones saw the Visy Theatre packed with people. I had been not-so-patiently awaiting this co-production by PlayLab and the Brisbane Powerhouse, and there was much excitement in the room. I was proud as punch for my friend, Merlynn.

In 2015, I saw Tong perform her first play Ma Ma Ma Mad, a one-woman show about her mother’s suicide. She is such a generous artist, sharing true stories of her life that are equal parts heart-wrenching and hilarious. It amazes me, what this young woman has been through, and the light she continues to generate.


Blue Bones is a story about young love and the horrors of domestic violence. This is yet another piece of Tong’s heart she offers up, creating art to interrogate and make peace with her past. She conjures up characters on stage with amazing physicality and distinction that help us follow the story and envision her world. She plays friends, teachers, family, morphing from one into the next with ease and clarity.


The play is set in Singapore and a projection screen is used to transport the audience to different locations. From a stark school cafeteria, a grungy dark playground, to a stark and grey overpass, images flashed up and accompanied Tong as she revisited her adolescence in a desperate fight to wrench an old lover from the marrow of her bones.



Ian Lawson’s direction of this work was nuanced and gripping, allowing moments to hit hard when needed. A favourite image of mine was when lines of electric green light cut through the space and Tong transformed into her deceased mother, speaking and guiding her from the grave. That is, at least, what I took from it. It happened a few times throughout the play and it cast a murky haze over me. I felt as if Tong was searching for something…for strength from her mother? It was an entrancing effect, and perhaps it was open to interpretation. I would have to read the play again – and just letting you know it is available for purchase from PlayLab! 


There was something about this work that resonated with me, and it took a while for me to articulate. Blue Bones is certainly an emotional rollercoaster. It is beautiful, funny, yet shockingly confronting. There are lines blurred, bruises exposed, though an important message of hope and redemption shines at the end. This story is about a young girl learning about love when all the odds are against her. A girl who was broken, soul and body left for dead, and she learnt to dance again.



Tong is a captivating performer and one hell of a brave woman.