THEATRE REVIEW: Rice at Sheffield Studio

PEOPLE and profit are explored in a compelling story of race and class told through the eyes of two women.

Fittingly performed on International Women’s Day, it tells of Nisha, an ambitious young executive, and Yvette, an older, maybe wiser, migrant cleaner as they strike up a friendship inside the walls of a glossy corporation building in Australia.

Nisha, a young Indian-Australian, schemes to sell rice to the impoverished masses of India after floods devastate rice farmers.

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Chinese-Australian Yvette cleans Nisha’s office regretting lost chances in business herself with a daughter facing jail for leading an environment protest over food gluts.

Anya Jaya Murphy (Nisha) and Angela Yeoh (Yvette) superbly transform themselves into multiple characters as cut-throat global politics comes up against the growing bond between the two women and their families.

The relationship is cemented when the women share Yvette’s packed lunch.

Murphy, power suited and in high heels in her skyscraper office at multinational rice producer Golden Fields, brilliantly captures the drive of a second generation migrant desperate to succeed, while revealing vulnerability and flaws.

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Yeoh, seemingly meek and mild, displays a rugged toughness and determination as she sees through the rotten system that is stacked against her and millions of others hoping for a better life.

She deftly switches from subservience to brashness in her characterisations.

Murphy delights as both Yvette’s boss and Johnny, Yvette’s aggressive nephew. She also plays Sheree, Yvette’s principled, yet mixed-up, daughter prosecuted for throwing salmon at a big boss.

Yeoh convinces as Nisha’s shallow commitment-seeking boyfriend Avi and shrewd and fearsome as Gretel Patel, the public administrator who ties her in bureaucratic knots.

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Along the way, Yvette rails at “stupid Chinese people” while Nisha invokes her Bengali grandmother, her “Didima”.

Tender and funny, writer Michele Lee brings out all the contradictions in a world of power, racism, sexism and prejudice, where the poor are pawns in the games of the rich.

Director Matthew Xia keeps everything sharp and taught. Hyemi Shin’s set design, water feature and all, nicely evokes corporate crassness.

In a touching end, we are left with questions over whether their friendship could really last.

Rice is more than enough food for thought.


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