Rice, written by Michele Lee and directed by Matthew Xia, is a fun two woman show which explores the roles of gender, race and class in today’s world, against a background of the migrant experience and how different generations are impacted by it.
Nisha (Anya Jaya-Murphy) is a young executive officer at Golden Fields, Australia’s largest producer of rice. The fashion of alternatives such as cauliflower rice and quinoa are impacting business in a big way, but Nisha has her eye on a deal which would make the company the national distributor of rice in India. Long hours and long phone calls with the Indian Agricultural Minister’s irritating PA, Gretel are taking their toll and Nisha soon finds herself conflicting with office cleaner, Yvette (Angela Yeoh).
Yvette is part of a new cleaning company which undercut their predecessor. Cutbacks do mean though that Yvette only has two minutes to clean each office. Concentrating on visible spaces in her whirlwind job means she doesn’t have time to clean up after Nisha, whose existence in the bubble of her office has left food containers strewn over her desk instead of in the bin which Yvette empties.
An argument over how the two women see each other’s place in the world sparks the beginning of an unlikely friendship, unsolicited and often bad advice about each other’s problems, and a mutual understanding of trying to find a place to fit in a world determined to keep you in your place.
The stark white set is blindingly clean, and it is easy to imagine how difficult Yvette’s job must be in a sterile environment which appears designed to highlight the smallest specks of dirt. Her blue cleaning equipment, trolley and uniform are conspicuous in this world where Nisha also stands out in a bright green trouser suit matched beautifully with her luminous green smoothie: good for her with its complex combination of fruits and vegetables and bad for the planet in its disposable plastic cup with straw.
Brechtian elements give the play a feeling of being on the outside looking in, familiar to anyone who has ever tried to understand someone else’s perspective, whether differences are cultural, class or any other differing element. The humour of the piece relies heavily on the exploitation of stereotypes but there is a serious tone whenever this is done, deepening the sense of understanding of the real world impact these labels have.
Both Jaya-Murphy and Yeoh perform multiple roles in the piece bringing life to the other people in Nisha and Yvette’s lives, from Tom, Nisha’s loud and sleazy colleague to Cherie, Yvette’s angry at the world daughter. The effortless morphing from one character to another with dramatic changes to body language and accent which creates a full cast of multiple people to tell the story.
The complexities of Yvette and Nisha’s home lives are gradually revealed and fleshed out and it quickly becomes apparent how much pressure both women are under. Yvette is the first to offer an olive branch to Nisha after witnessing her arguing with boyfriend, Avi. Her transformation from frustrated Avi to sympathetic Yvette is very good.
The exploration of language and its role in migrant families where children born in the adopted country may be more likely to use the adopted language than that of the home country is very interesting, particularly the potential impact of this on older family members. Assumptions about language and what people think other people should be able to speak and understand is touched on as is the guilt of people who have not made the effort to maintain their mother tongue but feel like they should have.
Class roles are also looked at in detail, with Yvette taking the opportunity of Nisha’s empty office to sit in her chair and play at being a high-powered executive. Royalty and royal titles are used to symbolise both class and assumptions about class, with words like “princess” being used as thinly veiled insults. A clever nod to the Cinderella story is a good reminder of class being a social construct rather than a natural occurrence.
Rice is a fun and interesting look at the world of culture and class through the eyes of two unique women who highlight that it is important to remember that people’s stories are their own and not the result of their race, culture, gender or class. Funny with some tender emotional scenes, this is a play which tears open the frustrations of day to day life which everyone can identify with and gives them a unique spin to create two people you can both empathise with while they deal with the problems arising in their lives.
Rice is being performed at the Unity Theatre until 19th March 2022. Tickets are available here https://www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk/whats-on/rice/
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 17th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★