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RICE by Michele Lee at Orange Tree Theatre | Review

There’s a warped sense of humour in Rice which didn’t appeal to me, although there were some in the audience that for whatever reason thought it was hilarious that Yvette (Sarah Lam) refers to another, albeit off-stage, woman as “ugly”. It’s a rather depressing piece of theatre, really – more or less everyone (by which I mean various other characters) is apparently full of bullsh*t, and there’s a lot of shouting going on. At one point I wondered if I was watching an episode of EastEnders, especially when there was a slap across the face.

Sarah Lam and Zainab Hasan in RICE by Michele Lee - Orange Tree Theatre and ATC - photo Helen Murray.
Sarah Lam and Zainab Hasan in RICE by Michele Lee – Orange Tree Theatre and ATC – photo Helen Murray.

Despite the show’s title, and a page in the programme dedicated to statistics and details of the mass production of rice in various countries, there are more ‘wet floor/cleaning in progress’ signs visible (three, possibly four at most) than there were grains of rice (none). Nisha (Zainab Hasan) spends a lot of time essentially bringing coal to Newcastle: the demand in the Australian market being what it is for rice, she works as an Executive Officer (whatever that means) for Golden Fields, a rice firm that wants to expand from Down Under – to India. I do not, in all seriousness, consider it a spoiler to let it be known that the venture fails.

The two actors play various roles between them, though none apart from Nisha and Yvette are named in the programme, so I shall keep faith with the production accordingly. Nisha’s working life was, especially when contrasted with the personal matters of both herself and others, almost like watching paint dry. It seems she had a relatively comfortable corporate career trajectory, derailed, or so the audience is led to believe, by the chief executive and other colleagues in the firm. Such is the dog eat dog world of the rat race, and I found it astonishing that Nisha was seemingly oblivious to the knives coming out for her as they would for anyone else.

There’s a prosecution pending for a family member of Yvette’s, which makes for an intriguing subplot. Having taken a different production to task not so long ago for not having characters that ever tried to do anything, however desperate, to get themselves out of sticky situations, I can hardly tear into Yvette for doing what she believed to be right. As the play swaps between several narratives (Nisha has her own family matters to deal with), it’s difficult to fully invest and connect with any of them, particularly when hardly any of the characters are likeable people.

As every place, whether it was the twentieth floor of a skyscraper or a meeting room in India, looked the same on stage, one is tempted to wonder why there was any set at all. There are considerable pressures placed on the central characters, which goes some way to explaining why the storylines are so fraught and vexed. I found it a rather exhausting experience, and while the intention may well have been to highlight injustices faced by non-white women in particular, who face the dual issues of racism and misogyny, that didn’t come across very strongly. This seemed more about the working classes being taken for a ride by the rich and powerful, which at least has some universality about it.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Nisha is a young hotshot executive working for Golden Fields, Australia’s largest producer of rice. Ambitious and headstrong, she’s determined to become the first female Indian CEO in Australia. She’s close to sealing a contract with the Indian government, which would see her company take over India’s national rice distribution system.

A secret deal worth billions.

Working late nights in the office she encounters Yvette, an older Chinese migrant, who cleans up her mess. Yvette has her own entrepreneurial ambitions, but her daughter faces court after participating in a protest against the unethical practices of a national supermarket chain.

The two form a powerful – if unlikely – bond as they navigate the complexities of their lives and the world at large.

CAST:
Nisha – Zainab Hasan
Yvette – Sarah Lam

CREATIVES:
Director – Matthew Xia
Designer – Hyemi Shin
Lighting Designer – Bethany Gupwell
Sound Designer and Composer – Lex Kosanke
Movement Director – Asha Jennings-Grant
Associate Director – Ameera Conrad
Dialect Coach – Catherine Weate
Casting Consultant – Sophie Parrott CDG
Casting Co-ordinator – Sarah Murray
Fight Director – Keith Wallis

RICE
by MICHELE LEE
9 October 2021 – 13 November 2021
https://orangetreetheatre.co.uk/

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