Theatre: The Age of Bones

The Age of Bones (Jaman Bekulang), an Indonesian-Australian co-production, is the fantastical tale of Ikan, an Indonesian boy who goes fishing one day and never comes home. His parents, thinking he’s lost at sea or drowned, give up hope of ever seeing him again when even the village’s legendary sea walker can’t find him. But Ikan is neither lost at sea nor dead: he found work on a refugee boat and, after it sank, he was captured and arrested by Australian border patrol. Ikan, despite being a minor, is jailed for two years and the play follows him and his family through the incarceration.

Written by award-winning playwright Sandra Thibodeaux, The Age of Bones was inspired by true events: the jailing of around 60 underage Indonesian boys caught working on refugee boats. Like Ikan in the play, the boys were falsely identified as adults using discredited age-determined techniques and imprisoned for up to two years.

Set under the sea and incorporating Indonesian shadow puppetry, music and projection, The Age of Bones is a surreal and timely satire of a truly farcical (if little known) chapter of recent Australian history. The costumes (especially the octopus and shark heads) and shadow puppets are especially magnificent, adding a real sense of magic and highlighting the un-reality of the situation.

The stupidity of the situation is underscored with excruciating clownishness by the two divers responsible for Ikan’s imprisonment. Their bumbling incompetency is stressed with ‘boing’ sound effects and the constantly repeated ‘yeah, nah’ in answer to almost any question. It fast becomes ridiculous; the inanity cringe-inducing. But that’s the point. The system itself is ridiculous and cringe-inducing.

A bilingual production (translation from Indonesian to English is provided by a scrolling projection), The Age of Bones doesn’t pander to Western sensibilities but proudly embraces and showcases it’s Indonesian roots. Directors Alex Galeazzi and Iswadi Pratama strike a wonderful balance; creating a story rich in Indonesian and Australian culture while confronting Australian audiences with the absurdity and cruelty of their ‘civilized’ western nation.

The Performing Lines, Teater Satu, and Satu Bulan Theatre co-production is part of Asia TOPA and will be playing at the La Mama Courthouse until March 5, after which the show will tour the country.

Score:7/10

The Age of Bones (Jaman Belulang)

La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton

Season: 22 February – 5 March 2017

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