Review: Rice! (Omnibus Theatre)

This collaboration from Wayang Kitchen and Omnibus Theatre is part play, part culinary experience. The first part of the show is a cooking demonstration of two Chinese dishes which are said to bring luck and prosperity: tea eggs, and congee.

Our kitchen was bustling with smells, noise and heat for the first hour, as we set out the ingredients in our meal kit (for two: rice, mustard greens, dried anchovies, light and dark soy sauce, oolong tea bag, star anise, cinnamon stick, rock sugar, mandarin peel).

It’s about belonging, and the role that preparing and cooking food means in our lives. We watch the cooking demonstration live from Kuala Lumpur, catching up in the chat, juggling bowls of water, saucepans, utensils.

We set the small pot of peanut cookies aside to munch on later. There is a sense of anticipation, and a playlist to match it which mixes Nirvana with Gershwin. Find it on Spotify to get yourself in the mood.

Production shot from Rice!

The show itself is the tale of two Connies (Michelle Wen Lee in the UK, Amanda Ang in Malaysia), written by Vera Chok, directed by Hester Welch and Razif Hashim of Wayang Kitchen. It is fast-paced, provocative, playful.

Full of stories and song, cooking and companionship, Rice! is an interactive as you want it to be, whether you want to share your food or join in the game to find young Connie a rich husband.

It returns to lists a lot: what I don’t like about myself; things my mother gave me. It looks as the place of the woman in society, and of the immigrant in community.

Older Connie talks of her garden of vegetables she can eat from, and the contrast between living in town or the country (shouted at in the urban sprawl, while in rural life “politeness says nothing”).

Production shot from Rice!

Young Connie is shown auditioning for something where her appearance is key; a taste of the exotic, an expectation of how a young Chinese woman should look, sound and behave.

There are bad jokes, nudges at the Brexit and xenophobic obsessions in the UK. Expectations in the Chinese family are highlighted (“I know what I don’t want to be: doctor, lawyer, accountant”).

The mystery of romance is depicted in the tale of “princess” Connie, who “under star anise like light, met a man in a mandarin peel boat”. Food with meaning, each bite weighted with conviction.

Connie’s life in the UK is highlighted by some home truths we Brits recognise with wry grins: you can find anything you need if you shop at Marks & Spencer; don’t make jokes about the food; don’t go to places like Brixton.

Production shot from Rice!

Older Connie talks of living in a country which isn’t yours, living through “a filter of foreignness”. A sense of harsh realities and a loss of connection: “I don’t know what I sound like anymore”.

Rice! was a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday, across the world in real time with a group who convened to laugh, to learn, and to eat.

Running for four performances from 21-28 February, Rice! has finished its run for the present but do look for for it if staged again and find out more here. The food kit provided by 5 Foot Way was delightful.

As Wayang Kitchen’s first international production, it was a definite success and I will keep a look out for what Welch and Hashim come up with next.

Find out more about Wayang Kitchen here.

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