Part of Belloo Creative’s mission is to bring people and stories out of the shadows. Appropriately then, the female-led, award-winning company’s latest production, Boy, Lost covers the true story of one family’s loss and redemption. The years-in-the-making world premiere work has been adapted for the stage by Katherine Lyall-Watson from Kristina Olsson’s award-winning memoir. It tells a tale of big themes in an intimate way, well suited to Queensland Theatre’s black box-style studio.
The company in residence at Queensland Theatre in 2019 – 2020 not only values the space and all its possibilities, but respects that story being told and the audience with whom they are sharing it. That starts with an explanation of what is to follow, the truth at its core and the storytelling device of two main narrators. They are the lost boy of the work’s title, Peter (Morgan Francis) and Sharon (Zoë Houghton, who is Kristina Olsson’s daughter). There is a warning that “Boy, Lost” contains strong and potentially triggering references to domestic violence, child institutionalisation, child abuse, ableism and a deceased First Nations person.
Even with all its dark themes, the piece is eloquently written, especially in the description of mother Yvonne (Hsiao-Ling Tang) through the eyes of her daughter, Sharon. Indeed, there are some lovely motifs and metaphoric descriptions woven the work. It is a crafted script and a realisation that not all plot points need to be overtly addressed in dialogue to be appreciated by an audience.
The tale begins when 17-year-old Yvonne and the exotic, twice-her-age Michael Mick (Stephen Geronimos) meet post-war in a Queen Street café. Soon, he has lured her on the Sunlander to North Queensland. Each actor plays multiple characters, jumping in and out of different roles with simple prop or costume enhancements.
Performers slip in and out of scenes though never leave the stage. For example, Colin Smith plays both Yvonne’s mother and Yvonne’s second husband, with the latter serving as a reminder that for all the bad in the world, there are still good people. Stephen Geronimos makes a menacing Mick, father to Peter, and also kind, cricket-loving friend Stevie, one of the angels in Peter’s life.
Caroline Dunphy’s snappy direction ensures that the show is economical in its storytelling. At 75-minutes, it is a tightly woven and rich true tale that takes its audience along on an emotional journey. Confronting subject matter is handled with sensitivity, stylised in its shadowed and silhouetted representation, yet still shocking in its impact. That is also thanks to the work of sound and lighting designers Guy Webster and David Walters respectively.
The experience of Boy, Lost is like undertaking a masterclass in storytelling. Not only is it an authentically told, deeply human story, but a real one that happened to not just this one family, but many others.
It is playing at Queensland Theatre, Diane Cilento Studio until 20th November, 2022.
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane