BWW REVIEW: Fabulously Funny Story Of Finding And Accepting Oneself Plays Out In Michele Lee's Somewhat Autobiographical GOING DOWN.
Monday 9th April 2018, 7:30pm, Wharf 2 Theatre Walsh Bay
Identity and society's expectation of what we should be sharing is explored in Michele Lee's new semi-autobiographical play GOING DOWN. Produced by Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre, this new Australian work presents a side of the non-white Australian story not often expressed on stage as it considers how society expects people to define themselves in particular ways.
The story centres on Natalie Yang (Catherine Davies), who like Lee, is a young Asian Australian woman who grew up in Canberra and currently lives in Melbourne and has written a memoir Banana Girl. Excited for the interest in her new book, Natalie, like Lee accepts an invitation to present a book talk, but for the purposes of the play Natalie's story has her travelling to Nagambie local library, and is met with a less than enthusiastic audience that all want a story of a woman who's identity is tied to her parents migration rather than the sexual freedom Natalie has written about. Fuelled by jealousy of rival Asian Australian writer Lu Lu Jayadi (Jenny Wu) and a dogged desire to distance herself from society's insistence that a story of identity from anyone other than white should focus on ancestral heritage rather than what they may have become Natalie sets out to write an even steamier book until she realises she can be both the daughter of migrants and a modern Australian woman.
Designers The Sisters Hayes have created an intriguing compact set for the Wharf 2 stage with allusions to the geometry and metal that dominates Melbourne's contemporary architecture (think Federation Square). A shuttered window serves as the coffee shops and bars that dominate Melbourne's culture and milk crates serve as hipster club seating whilst steps reveal the bed from which Natalie plans to research her next book. Yarn Bombed pillars provide a boundary for the persistent traffic of Melbourne pathways. Their costuming captures the trends of the young hipsters with which Natalie and her friends identify whilst allowing the flexibility for quick changes and easily recognisable stereotypes of smaller characters.
The compact ensemble cast of 4 fabulous performers support Davies in presenting Natalie's story by covering a dizzying array of characters that make up Natalie's world. Along with a number of unnamed characters, Paul Blenheim presents a lovesick Matt, desperate to get back with Natalie's best friend Tilda, portrayed by Naomi Rukavina, and Jenny Wu covers rival writer Lu Lu Jayadi and Natalie's mother. Rounding out the ensemble Josh Price plays the string of men that occupy Natalie's bed along with other incidental characters including the disapproving librarian. There are no weak links in this cast. Davis is endearing as the young writer wanting to be more than the daughter of migrants, delivering Natalie's feelings direct to the audience with a contemporary confidence and sneer when sick of the sycophantic following her rival is attracting.
This is a well-paced story filled with heart and humour. Presented as Natalie's story, delivered by Natalie as she breaks the fourth wall, Davies ensures she connects with the audience to ensure that whilst the rest of her world seems to favour Lu Lu, the viewer understands Natalie's struggles. It is refreshing to see stories from non-white Australians on stage and to be reminded that there is more to them than just where they came from. For Asian Australians there is a definite relatability and Lee ensures the laughs aren't centred on stereotypes, opting for universal experiences to garner the reactions whilst having race be a more subtle undertone, reminding us how similar we really are.
23 March - 5 May 2018