Torturing John Thompson – an evening’s entertainment at the dragon’s lair


A theatrical spoken word piece first performed as part of Ladies of Colour Cabaret Melbourne Fringe Festival 2009

By Loretta Mui

The stage is set as the interior of a dragon’s lair. Left of stage, the HOSTAGE (a mannequin body with a foam head attached) is tied haphazardly with duct tape to a chair. The HOSTAGE dons a plain brown suit and an expression of alarm.  A silver tray at the front holds an array of items, a soy sauce bottle, rice bowls filled with ink and chopsticks amongst other things.

The evening’s HOST enters right of stage.


Welcome my upmost honoured guests, to this dragon’s lair
Where its illicit fun every night in here.
All I ask of you is to relax and enjoy yourselves.

Removes her jacket and observes the audience.

You appear a subdued group tonight
Well maybe a bit of pain- [a dagger is gently pulled] will shock you into the right mood?

The HOSTAGE is thrown back, the dagger is viciously pressed on him.

Well yes, my dear guests
[The HOST shifts the mannequin]
We have for you a very special treat tonight
Meet John Thompson, an esteemed anthropologist
He’s looking a little sorry right now, but wait till I’ve had my fix
And we will see a rejuvenated example of acculturation

[Stroking the foam face]
Oh John, don’t be scared
I just would like to know
What cracks your nuts?
[Leans into John, grabbing his crotch]
He seems to have stopped speaking – before I couldn’t shut him up

[Leaning into John’s face]
But wait, I think I hear John say
In his whispers he’s scared of me
Scared of those Asians
He’s scared I’ll tear his pathetic reputation to shreds
[Rips off the HOSTAGE’s glasses]
He’s scared of turning into what he most fears

Well there’s an idea
This white man needs a new exotic look
[Reaches to the silver tray, sinking her hand deep into the bowl]
John I think it is time you came to the yellow side
[Smothers the face with thick yellow paint]
Oh…oh John don’t you feel so much better?

We are just getting started my dear guests
But let us hear what John Thompson has to say about the yellow race
Wise, interesting observations he makes

[Reading from John Thompson’s journal]
The face is altogether a pleasing one
But as is common amongst the children in China
It will gradually lose its attractions as it grows to maturity.
The softness of the eye is then frequently replaced by a cold, calculating expression,
And the countenance assumes an air of apathetic indifference.

That’s fucking genius John
[Spits towards his direction]
How do we reconstruct that?
Cool calculated expression?
Well John
[Reaches for a pen]
Your eyes are too soft, too round

The pen pierces the soft foam eyes multiple times.  After many punctures, the HOST reaches for a brush laden with black ink, drawing thick lines on John’s eyes.

Don’t be scared John, we’re taking it step by step
And I’m only doing what you’ve theorised
I wonder what would make this picture complete?
Perhaps John requires some Oriental decorations
Maybe some chopsticks? Is that not what us Asians wear?

Chopsticks are stabbed into John’s head, left as decorative elements.

Oh I just forgot, I have been starving John for the last week and a half…
John you must be ravenous for something exotic?
[Reaches for stale sushi and smears it over John’s mouth]
It appears John cannot eat!
Stage fright perhaps?
In any case I think we’re missing something important here
That particular, unquestionable “Asian Smell”
[A bottle of sweet sticky soy sauce is poured over the HOSTAGE’s head, the sauce oozes down his face]

It is almost over John
[The HOST strokes the HOSTAGE’s absurd face]
But let us not forget to light some incense
[Two sticks of incense is inserted into the head] For good luck
[And lit]  For good health

I have enjoyed myself thoroughly tonight
And John Thompson is truly beautiful
What a lurid example of anthropological wisdom
Dear guests we must do this again
But John unfortunately has elsewhere to be

Tears the HOSTAGE’s head apart and walks off carrying the transformed foam head.  Mannequin body remains on stage.


Author’s note:

John Thomson was a nineteenth century photographer and amateur anthropologist. The development of photographic technology at this time allowed readers to come even closer to the excitement of discovering the ‘Other’ in such as in Thomson’s travel journals. His published book, Ilustrations of China and its People (1873-4), included a series of photos depicting the so called ‘barbarity’ and ‘moral laxity’ of the “yellow race”.

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