Winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, which allows three finalists to be paid to develop their work with industry professionals, Michele Lee’s Ricemakes its world premiere with Queensland Theatre Company.
Set against the corporate background of an Australian rice company, the play centres around two women – the “Indian Princess” Nisha (Kristy Best) who is the Executive Officer of the company, and the “Chinese cleaner” Yvette (Hsiao-Ling Tang), the woman who cleans Nisha’s office each night. Both women are hard workers, driven forward by a love of and dedication to family – Nisha’s grandmother’s Alzheimer’s is worsening, and Yvette’s daughter is facing jail time for assaulting a powerful man while protesting his company’s policies.
Directed by Lee Lewis and with design by Renee Mulder, the work examines “bigger picture” themes – super economies, ruthless business competition, mass agriculture – without missing out on the smaller, human details – high-pressure workplace relations, difficult family and relationship dynamics, ambition that doesn’t come to fruition. The women find themselves in an unlikely, fleeting friendship as each woman finds someone to listen. It is a story about so many things; multiculturalism, female friendship, women in business. At the heart of things, it is about our human need for connection and recognition, and I imagine it resonated with audience members regardless of their gender or cultural heritage.
Both actresses play multiple roles within the piece and switched relatively seamlessly between these using different postures, minor changes of costuming – the addition of a scarf or jacket to indicate a change of character – and accents. The only exception to this was Tang’s inconsistent American accent in the character of Graham, Nisha’s new boss. Both women gave excellent performances, and their strong onstage connection to each other and to the story took the work to another level.
Overall, the play is an exceptional new work with a distinctly Australian voice, set very specifically in Brisbane but easily adaptable to almost any city in our multicultural, globalised world. The emotional performance and onstage chemistry between the two actresses cinch this performance as a winner.