For many years now Belvoir Street Theatre has been in the forefront of championing diversity in theatrical performance. In particular, it has been the case with indigenous performers and playwrights, culminating in the multi-award winning The Drover’s Wife written by and starring Leah Purcell.
Perhaps to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year Belvoir has cast its gaze towards Asian stories and performance in a major way. The play is SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE a full-length work written by Michelle Law, and starring three fellow Asian protagonists.
The story tells of Pearl, the almost stereotypical Chinese ‘tiger’ mother who runs a Chinese restaurant, the Golden Phoenix, trying to juggle the business and family as a divorcee.
Despite regarding herself as a feminist she has plotted out for her daughters Zoe, aged 29, and Mei, aged 17, a future as ‘traditional’ Chinese girls, honouring Chinese traditions. Needless to say, the women have other ideas which challenge Pearl’s world to comedic and dramatic effect.
Claire Christian’s production, aided by a very fine set design by Moe Assaad featuring stage level restaurant area and upper level the family home, vividly brings the play’s world to life.
Hsiao-Ling Tang impressively played the over protective mother Pearl, futilely fighting the girls westernised ways. Her performance was full of comedy and warmth (especially through her love of karaoke and her fierce love for her daughters). Just, at times, it felt like it lacked a little subtlety.
Pearl’s two daughters were played by Alex Lee as the older daughter, Zoe, and Courtney Stewart as younger daughter, Mei. The sibling conflict between the two sisters was well portrayed with the older sister resenting having to move back home after her mother had to sell the flat she bought for her, and Mei being very territorial about her bedroom, decked out with great adolescent flair.
Lee gave a very appealing performance as Zoe, who was a little in limbo with her life, having not achieved the independence she had hoped for, a situation which doesn’t get easier during the play. Career-wise, she tries to secure job as a violinist in a Symphonic Orchestra. Her battles with anxiety don’t help her situation either.
One ray of light in her life is the romance that she has with her mum’s very chilled lawyer, Paul, elegantly played by Patrick Jhanur.
Courtney Stewart gave a very warm performance as younger daughter, Mei, who doesn’t want to attach herself too closely to her Asian culture, and is desperate to fit in with her Anglo peers.
Emily Burton gave a knockout performance as her feisty and funny best friend Katie. Katie loves her cosplay and manga and being a bit of a clown.
Lucy Heffernan delivered a very oomphy performance as Mei’s catty, very insecure frenemy, Lana.
This was a worthy, warm, at times funny, and high spirited night at the theatre.
A La Boite production which has come down to Sydney, SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE is playing the Belvoir Street Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills until the 25th March.