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Rice

Michele Lee
Orange Tree Theatre with Actors Touring Company in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth
The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Angela Yeoh and Anya Jaya-Murphy

Desperately ambitious and with much to cram into just 95 minutes, Rice is an Orange Tree Theatre co-production with Actors Touring Company in association with TRP, aiming to showcase the next generation of theatre talent, female voices and global issues.

Award-winning Asian-Australian writer Michele Lee’s tale weaves strands of cultural identity, power, women in business, geopolitics, corporate greed, family dynamic and much too much more leaving rich seams opened but unmined and an unfinished, breathless feel.

That said, the thought-provoking two-hander beautifully showcases the talents of Anya Jaya-Murphy and Angela Yeoh as they morph from young yuppie with ambition to campaigning activist, brattish teen, Russian supervisor and unfeeling nephew or downtrodden cleaner to marketing exec, disingenuous PA, bohemian boyfriend and CEO—with nothing more than a facial expression or stance.

Nisha (promising 2020 graduate Jaya-Murphy) is of West Bengali descent and is on the rise—but holding on by her carefully manicured fingernails. Plucked from marketing and promoted to a created executive position, she is under scrutiny by the new chief. With much to prove, she has sown the seeds of her success at Golden Fields promoting new markets for Aussie rice—in India. But the minister is not taking her calls, his devious PA is on her own agenda and floods have devastated the paddy fields while the world has gone carb-free preferring quinoa, paleo and keto.

Melbourne-born but with a family of sisters, parents and failing didima to support, Nisha is brittle, bolshy and worried. Working into the small hours—except salsa night with the girls and for occasional quick sex with her high school sweetheart and street food on wheels entrepreneur laid-back boyfriend—she is faking it hoping to make it and butts heads with the diminutive Yvette who has two minutes to clean and objects to clearing away food debris on the desk.

Former international reporter Yeoh (The Batman, BBC's Ghosts) is an absolute delight. Faded and carrying the weight of the world on her slumped shoulders, she hovers and hoovers as Nisha rants and pulls rank. But Yvette is immune: she’s a single mum of Made-in-Melbourne would-be modern-day martyr Sheree whose latest campaign has landed a corporate bigwig in an eel-infested pond and herself in hot water, and a failed serial entrepreneur whose stock of fake Prada bags and shoes have been dumped on the street by her angry-for-some-unknown-reason nephew.

With a twitch of her shoulder and relax of her face, and, despite her pinny and tiny frame, she becomes swaggering Tom or intense Dr Graeme Hartley—and we believe.

Lee’s concept is interesting and engaging conjuring tremendous imagery at times—mud-splattered saris and 78-slide presentations of particular note—but meanders and leaves too many loose ends to be completely satisfactory.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell