06
Jul
17

RICE

Rice

Queensland Theatre

Queensland Theatre Bille Brown Studio

June 24 – July 16 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Tini biyoyer sathei aasen. She moves with victory. Tini biyoyer sathei aasen. She moves…

Rice is the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winner (2016), a slick and sophisticated two-hander about women, ambition, power, partnerships, love, loss, loyalty, forgiveness and family. Melbourne’s Michele Lee says, “Initially I said Rice was about a plethora of ‘big’ contemporary issues. As if I was some Michael Moore of theatre. Mass agriculture. Super economies. Mercenary corporations. Women in business. Rice is about these things. But it’s partly, primarily, about two women searching for new friendships and new intimacies, new versions of family, however fleeting.”

Lee’s writing is refreshingly real; her characters are recognisable and relatable. The dialogue is fast, funny, and unapologetically localised, a delight for Brisbane audiences, peppered with references to familiar places. Leading ladies, Kirsty Best (Nisha) and Hsiao-Ling Tang (Yvette) also play the incidental characters who come in and out of their lives, including the boss, the boyfriend, the bogan, an Indian widow, a nephew, a daughter… The first of these transitions is a little uncertain but once established, these switches work well, making this play a tidy little touring number. 

Renee Mulder’s sleek, white minimal corporate office set and Jason Glenwright’s bright, spare lighting keep the focus on the performers, who step into a natural rhythm that allows them an easy banter and yet, appropriately uncomfortable silences at times to underpin a few home truths about the world views of the Indian Princess and the Chinese Cleaner.

This is the part of the story where I tell you about an Indian princess.

Nisha (Indian Princess) is a typical young thing in a navy suit who knows everything, until it’s revealed that she doesn’t. Both her undoing and the making of her is her ability to see things for what they really are. Yvette is the Chinese Cleaner who has been bettered all her immigrant life by others, including extended family members. She continues to struggle to maintain a civil relationship with her daughter. Both women have a clear picture of where they’d like to be and they think they know how they’ll get there. But life – a death, a flood, a legal battle – gets in the way and other things along the way become important again.

This is the part where we eat.

There is a delicate balance in the writing between the vulnerability and intimacy of the women’s working relationship and the apparently unavoidable distance – a chasm, in this life at least – between them. This is beautifully measured in the performances when the women are playing their main roles.

Director, Griffin Theatre’s Lee Lewis, has created on the 20th floor of Nisha’s inner city office building, a microcosm of contemporary society, placing the personal worlds of the women squarely inside the bigger global picture. They can’t escape or dismiss the personal. They can’t ignore a connection with another human being and continue to complain about not being noticed or supported…or deeply affected. The women must always, in some small way, be there for each other.

Great theatre allows us to see ourselves in the story. Lee’s universal story of connection, shared via a personal, local lens, doesn’t condescend or compromise or get in its own way.

Its humour, insight and wonderfully engaging personable performances make Rice a lovely easy play to watch. The challenge is in walking away and making the tiny daily changes to the way we do things. Because we can. And we must; ignorance is no longer an excuse for the ill treatment of people in our immediate circles (or outside of them). Was it ever? How often do we consider the way we go about our day? How do we speak to our loved ones, our colleagues, strangers and friends we haven’t met yet? How do we choose to respond to others? How do we choose to treat others, in business and in life? On the train? At the checkout? In our homes and schools and offices? In the street? Can we go forward now, into every situation, with genuine curiosity, dignity and compassion? Can we just take a breath, half a moment, before uttering anything aloud or online to consider the impact it might have on a person? And how far, really, is too far out of our way to give a person a lift home?

Through the strong, vulnerable, wonderful women of Rice Michele Lee asks these vital questions with the utmost respect, and with greater wit and good humour than most.

This is the part where we go.

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