Sandra Thibodeaux is an award-winning playwright. She’s authored more than a dozen plays that have been staged as part of festivals and broadcast on the ABC’s Radio National. In recent times, Thibodeaux wrote The Age of Bones (Jaman Belulang), which was shortlisted for the Griffin Theatre’s prestigious Griffin Award.

As part of a five-stop national tour, The Age of Bones arrives this week at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres. An Indonesian-Australian co-production, The Age of Bones is described as a biting satire with family appear, which aims to spark conversation on a controversial chapter in Australia’s recent history.

“Between 2008 and 2011, there were about 100 Indonesian guys put in jail in Australia for working on asylum seeker boats,” Thibodeaux tells Theatre People.

“The problem was that many of them said they were still minors and the federal police put them in an adult jail despite that. It particularly struck a chord with me because I had a teenage son at the time. The worst part of the story was … the parents didn’t actually know where the guys were – they just went off fishing one day and didn’t come back … They weren’t actually told for about a year and a half.”

Combining traditional Indonesian shadow puppetry with music and digital projection, The Age of Bones is inspired by the stories of those Indonesian boys but tells a fictional story set deep beneath the sea. The play follows the fantastical story of Ikan from the time he leaves his small fishing village, to an undersea courthouse, and to his eventual imprisonment in Australia.

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The Age of Bones (Photo by M Aria Gibran)

Thibodeaux talks about the process of creating the play.

“I did a lot of research in Australia first to find out about the actual cases,” she says.

“Lindsay Murdoch was the journalist who first broke the story, so I had a talk with him, and then he put me on to one of the lawyers in Brisbane, and I had a talk with him as well … And I went over to Eastern Indonesia to get a sense of what life is like over there – their homes, their way of life, why these kids end up working on asylum seeker boats … I formed a good connection with some families there in one village and … as I did drafts, they gave me some feedback.”

As a cross-border project, Thibodeaux worked on The Age of Bones with both an Indonesian and an Australian director.

“I started first with the Indonesian director and with a shadow puppeteer and a translator and, probably over two years, we did about four development workshops … and then rehearsals in Indonesia last year.”

The Indonesian performances last year included tour stops to Lampung, Bandung and Tasikmalaya. In Australia, The Age of Bones’ four-state tour encompasses stops in Victoria, New South Wales and both the Australian Capital and Northern Territories.

Thibodeaux and the team have taken great care to balance the comedic aspects of the piece with the poignant story it tells.

“People will have a great time while they watch the show, but there’s also a political message under there.”

So, what would Thibodeaux like audiences to take away from their experience seeing The Age of Bones?

“Probably the main thing is that they would have a connection with the Indonesian family I’ve depicted and be able to identify with the grief of the parents and the son, and be able to understand the story from another perspective.”

 

THE AGE OF BONES (JAMAN BELULANG) – PARRAMATTA SEASON DETAILS

When: 7.30pm on 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th Mar; 11am on 23rd Mar (plus Q&A); and 2.15pm on 25th March
Tickets: Adult $42, Conc $37, 30 & Under $28
From the Box Office (02) 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au
Transaction fees: phone $4.60, web $3.60 and counter $2.60
Discounts available for Riverside Theatres’ Members

Venue: Riverside Theatres (Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta)
Suitable for: Ages 12+

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