No matter what your social status, cultural background, or gender is everyone has dreams, challenges, and personal problems.
Premiering at Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Studio, in association with Griffin Theatre is Michele Lee’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning play, Rice.
Set in a corporate office building between the basement and the 20th floor executive office of a food technology company (with a trip to India between), the play revolves around the personal lives of two multicultural women on the opposite ends of the corporate ladder (or office elevator in this case). The blindly ambitious 28 year-old, ‘Indian princess’ Nisha, has been working on a long campaign to sell rice to India. Too busy to cook her own dinner, she eats takeaway at her office desk, while Yvette, the ‘Chinese cleaner’, cleans up the mess.
The minimalistic set design (Renée Mulder), displays a symbolic representation of the two character’s vocations (and status); a large desk in the middle with a small waste basket underneath.
Simple in its execution as a two-hander, the play is complex in its themes and covers so much ground, from the micro to macro, personal relationships, politics, gender, identity, race and otherness, women in business, globalisation, and multi-cultural life in contemporary Australia, all from a female gaze.
Crossing culture, generations, and social norms, Nisha, the EO of Golden Fields and second generation Australian with family ties to West Bengal, and Yvette, the cleaner and migrant from China, form an unlikely bond of sisterhood through their late-night conversations in the office, which unexpectedly helps each other traverse the complexities of family and business life.
You would think with the multi-layered themes the play addresses, it would either become didactic or disjointed at best, but with Michele Lee’s witty dialogue and Griffith Theatre Director, Lee Lewis’ astute direction, the play is pacey and engaging with not a moment lagging or too heavy with the point it is trying to make. A nod to Epic Theatre, the characters at times break the fourth wall to let us know where we are up to in the plot, “This is the part where we eat”. There is also a lovely double-ending to remind us that the resolutions to life’s challenges are not neatly wrapped up in a bow. While some options to the time and effort involved may be considered unrealistic, it doesn’t mean impossible. Perhaps a second consideration of ‘unrealistic’ options may prove all the more rewarding.
Kirsty Best (Nisha) is an engaging powerhouse of a performer and Hsiao-Ling Tang (Yvette) is strong and cheeky as the cleaner, bravely stepping above her status to challenge her boss. It just goes to show that a great script with great storytelling provides just as satisfying audience experience as the big box office spectacular.
Now for the one little objection… Although this clever two-hander offers a producer a viable touring production and a wonderful vehicle to showcase the versatility of actors who play multiple roles (with multiple accents), personally I feel it was at the detriment of clear understanding of the story and emotional investment in the characters. At least one more team member would have made a big difference (and given another actor a job). Gripe aside, Rice is an important work that should be welcomed into the high school curriculum as an opportunity to explore the multitude of complex issues facing our society in contemporary Australia.
Rice is currently playing at Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Studio until July 16, and will then tour to Sydney from July 22, and Victoria from August 29.
Warning: Contains coarse language and adult themes.