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BWW Review: RICE, Orange Tree Theatre

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Matthew Xia directs a thought-provoking take on an unusual female friendship

BWW Review: RICE, Orange Tree Theatre

BWW Review: RICE, Orange Tree Theatre As part of their new Recovery Season, the Orange Tree Theatre, in a co-production with Actors Touring Company, now brings us Rice, a powerful, thought-provoking and funny play about cultural identity, class, race and power told through two very different women, who form an unlikely friendship.

Set in Australia, Nisha is a young Indian-Australian and an ambitious executive on the cusp of securing a life-changing deal to sell rice to India. Yvette is an older Chinese-Australian who cleans Nisha's office while she juggles with trying to revive a failing business and a daughter in trouble for environmental activism.

Nisha's deal is built on the back of devastating floods in India which have crippled many rice farmers. The big ideas of global agriculture and geopolitics are the background to the growing relationship between the two women and their families. They are both Asian-Australian and both women, which informs their life experiences; they both feel their 'otherness' in society.

Zainab Hasan as Nisha is very adept at showing the internal struggle between trying to climb the corporate ladder and reconciling this with her cultural background as a second-generation immigrant. Hasan is forthright, verging on rude and incredibly ambitious, as she portrays Nisha as having so much to prove.

Sarah Lam is calm and sympathetic as Yvette, a first-generation immigrant, she is not meek in the face of Nisha's seemingly hostile attitude. Lam's slumping body language shows her tiredness, both physically, but also with the rudeness of those who surround her. Together they form a touching and convincing relationship of mutual support and understanding over various dishes of chicken and rice.

Both are skilled at playing numerous other characters, jumping between accents and intonations very well. Hasan is particularly good as Johnny, Yvette's aggressive nephew, and Sheree, her cruel and frustrated daughter. Lam is not quite as adept as Hasan at the shift in accents, but is convincing as Nisha's commitment-seeking boyfriend Avi and nicely passive aggressive as Gretel Gupta, the smooth-talking ministerial assistant.

Writer Michele Lee won the Queensland Premier's Drama Award for Rice in 2016. It is very welcome to see a play focusing on two interesting, ethnically diverse women, particularly an older one in the character of Yvette.

Although Lee's characters are multi-layered, it would have been interesting to further explore Yvette's seemingly hostile attitude to other 'stupid Chinese people', as she repeatedly says, and Nisha's wider family background. There are many strands to her story, but it is appropriate that there are no sentimental or neat endings to the play.

Director Matthew Xia, maintains a lightness and very smooth momentum to the production, despite a huge amount to fit in. The pace drops considerably in the last ten minutes, but this is mainly down to the script, rather than the acting.

It never fails to impress how flexible the space of the Orange Tree is, despite its diminutive size. Hyemi Shin's adaptable design features a striking white gloss set; a desk becomes a car, a toilet, a hotel room, a flooded basement. There are five large lighting panels in one corner which are a striking feature, becoming a fountain and a lift shaft. However, the visual effect of these panels must be inevitably reduced if seated too close.

Rice feels refreshingly different, despite touching on very familiar themes and its intimacy is complimented by its venue. A funny, touching and throughly interesting production.

Rice is at the Orange Tree Theatre until 13 November

Photo Credit: Helen Murray


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