Review by Bella Wellstead
12 emerging playwrights. 13 fabulous performers. A team of over 40, producing two new Asian-Australian plays. Chain Play is a night of gregarious energy that presents two six-scene plays – Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way and How Asian Are You? These two performances were created by a team of writers who were provided with only the scene before theirs to inform how they wrote their own. The writing is youthful, vibrant, and chock full of pop culture references. Despite this, an intergenerational and culturally diverse cast command the stage, capturing both the individual and collective experiences of the Asian diaspora.
In Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, aged care worker My is bamboozled into believing that she has inherited a billion dollars’ worth of bitcoin from her client Alex. With the appearance of various mysterious newcomers, this ‘inheritance’ is revealed to be an elaborate revenge plot against Alex and her daughter. In How Asian Are You? Ella worries that her mixed boyfriend John is only interested in her because she’s Asian. She embarks on a quest to unveil the ways in which he expresses his culture. In so doing, she opens a dialogue about the many ways that Asian identity can be defined by those within the diaspora.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way is an energetic piece of physical comedy. Actors dance chaotically around the space and spray water across the stage, spattering the incredulous audience. Teddy Jamieson is vibrant as My, communicating the character’s sceptical elation with wit and charm. Michelle Masefield (Mary) undermines the trope of the stable, older co-worker with the boldness and cheekiness of her asides. Also unexpected is Susan Ling Young (Alex), who balances an elderly fragility alongside comedic strength and uncompromising audacity.
The scenes in Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way are cohesive and seamless – an impressive feat considering the chain structure of the script. Conversely, in How Asian Are You? the storyline, production elements, and even the actors’ performances change considerably between scenes. Set design by Pui Yan Rachel Hui is simple, functional, and malleable – perfect for a production whose setting varies so significantly from scene to scene. Four white screens outline the perimeter of the stage as tables, chairs, and bubble tea cups are shuttled on and off. Costume design by Katrina Chan and Chloe Ho is elegant and well-considered, authenticating the characters by situating them in the real world and amplifying their differences in age, occupation, and status.
Both sound design and Catherine Mai’s lighting design are manipulated expertly in How Asian Are You? A collection of brightly coloured spots and an energetic theme tune transform the Flight Path Theatre stage into a game show set. Those same coloured lights return later in the performance to punctuate a moment of queer revelation.
As in the play that precedes it, the performances in How Asian Are You? are lively, captivating, and brimming with personality. Linda Chong (Ella) has a self-awareness that pokes fun at the character’s youthful despair. Susan Huang (Anne) transforms from therapist to game-show host with entertaining vivacity, while Cheng Tang’s (Tim) metamorphosis from yum-cha waiter to exasperated stage director earns its hilarity from its hyperbolised aggression. The comedy of Marie-Jo Orbase’s Bubble Tea Worker is surprising and delightful, her sudden flirtations lending depth to a character whose initial function is to serve the other characters.
In the final scene of How Asian Are You? the stage lights are discarded, the house lights come up, and the actors break the fourth wall. They transition from character to actor and back again, exposing their contractual obligations to Panda Tea, the sponsor of the show. These improvised conversations are an allegory for the sacrifices they make as Asian actors in a theatre culture dominated by white Australians. It is in this moment that the riotous physical comedy gives way to a discussion of how identity is ignored, explored, and exploited on the stage. As I am not Asian myself, I feel privileged to have witnessed this dialogue and reminded of the challenges faced by Asian-Australian creatives.
Funny, engaging, and contemplative, Chain Play is clearly a source of joy and pride for its creators. Their enthusiasm shines through every element of the production. This show is an undeniable victory for Slanted Theatre Company.