Review: Rice (Orange Tree Theatre)

Michele Lee’s Rice is a deeply ambitious play, populated by numerous characters and performed by two actors.

Zainab Hassan and Sarah Lam first appear as an Indian-born executive, Nisha, and a Chinese-born cleaner, Yvette. They find themselves in conflict in an anonymous office block in Melbourne.

In a white space with functional furniture which stands for a number of locations, and a trio of perspex screens which hint at a lift, a cinema, a slide projector, a fountain, the story of Rice evolves as Nisha attempts to import food back to the impoverished land of her birth.

Profit and personality are at the forefront as characters come and go. Their accents and motivations change, but director Matthew Xia’s ptoduction keeps Hassan and Lam dressed the same throughout.

Despite the flair of Lee’s writing, which explores many facets of the personal and professional lives of both women, the constant switch of accents and characters (I counted eight supplementary roles, perhaps more) was occasionally confusing.

Hyemi Shin’s set was excellent throughout, although the screens would be most effective to those not seated immediately alongside them. Bethany Gupwell’s lighting and Lex Kosanke’s sound expertly contributed to the illusion of different settings.

Rice explores both issues of displacement and disconnection with those around us and the places of our origin. It is often briskly amusing, then brusquely awkward. For me, though, there is too much going on to really connect fully with every story.

The strongest scenes are between Yvette and her activist daughter, which felt as if it had potential for further development. The male roles were interesting, with Lam’s CEO proving a stark contrast with Hassan’s entitled teenager.

Rice is a story of growth and connection at its heart, which is where it succeeds the most. You can watch it live at the Orange Tree Theatre until 13 November, or enjoy the livestream at home on 4-5 November, or on demand from 16-19 November. Book your tickets here.

Image credit: Helen Murray