Rice review – office politics brought sharply to life

Orange Tree theatre, Richmond
Michele Lee’s two-hander is a thoughtful take on the power of women at work

The Orange Tree theatre is creating a series of internationally focused plays with Actors Touring Company (ATC). Rice, their new co-production, fits the bill nicely. Written by the Asian-Australian playwright Michele Lee, it’s set in a large Australian farming company and is about Indian executive Nisha – “made in Melbourne” but still close to her West Bengali grandma – and Chinese cleaner and failed entrepreneur Yvette. Nisha and Yvette’s lives overlap under the harsh glow of the office lights as they put in endless night shifts and struggle to make themselves heard above the constant chatter of powerful men.

Dressed in a power suit but with eyes lit up with anxiety, Nisha (Zainab Hasan) prowls around the gleaming-white office, uncomfortable in the space she is so frantic to make her own. Yvette (Sarah Lam) is a much more still presence. She mostly hovers around the edges of the stage but seems sure and solid in the series of small spaces she occupies.

As the nights unfold, we learn more about Yvette’s unruly daughter (recently arrested after an environmental protest) and Nisha’s wilfully unhelpful colleagues, who seem determined to stymie her success. The two actors bring to life a bristling host of characters, ranging from a coolly controlling boss to stroppy teenagers, frisky co-workers and a wonderfully haughty government adviser. Lam plays the more powerful figures – almost all men – and it’s fascinating to watch her body language change as she grows more fluid and expansive in these positions of power (even her voice seems to spread out), unapologetically filling every room she enters.

Hasan is particularly good as Yvette’s eastern European boss, a woman who laughs in the face of authority and scoffs at timesheets. It’s in these sharp comic cutaways that Lee’s writing works best. She has a clipped and energetic style perfectly suited to comic quips (every time Nisha has sex, she barks out “Done!”) but can lend a brittle tone to the later, more dramatic, encounters. Matthew Xia directs with sensitivity and Bethany Gupwell’s lighting design is particularly evocative, working hard to ground this slightly skittering but thoughtful play.

  • At the Orange Tree until 13 November, live-streamed 4-5 November. Then touring, February–April.


Miriam Gillinson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Last Easter review – a lovable drama about life, death and theatre
Bryony Lavery’s play, revived by director Tinuke Craig, celebrates friendship with truths, humour and good punchlines

Arifa Akbar

13, Jul, 2021 @2:02 PM

Article image
The Solid Life of Sugar Water review – Jack Thorne’s superb drama of love and loss
Brilliantly acted, designed and directed, Thorne’s tender but brutally powerful portrait of a couple gets an overdue revival

Miriam Gillinson

20, Oct, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Inside review – trio of anxious lockdown studies
Deborah Bruce’s grief-stricken monologue Guidesky and I is the pick of the Orange Tree theatre’s introspective bunch

Arifa Akbar

26, Mar, 2021 @1:02 PM

Article image
The Tempest review – groundbreaking Shakespeare for autistic audiences
Flute Theatre’s innovative production gives children the chance to play out the scenes initiated by the actors

Lyn Gardner

31, Oct, 2016 @1:54 PM

Article image
Yellowman review – colourism drama with two terrific leads
Nadine Higgin and Aaron Anthony excel as the couple in Dael Orlandersmith’s Pulitzer-nominated play

Anya Ryan

09, Sep, 2022 @12:07 PM

Article image
Arms and the Man review – Shaw’s women show their steel
This 1894 farce set during the Serbo-Bulgarian war is impeccably played in a production showing the playwright’s radical vision still resonates

Mark Lawson

25, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Tom Fool review – money bites in deeply felt family drama
Franz Xaver Kroetz’s play is a sharp exploration of the way finances wriggle their way into the existing rifts of everyday life

Kate Wyver

17, Mar, 2022 @7:22 PM

Article image
The Sugar Syndrome review – Lucy Prebble's dark encounters still connect
Oscar Toeman directs a striking revival of the 2003 play about the relationship between a teenage girl and a paedophile

Arifa Akbar

28, Jan, 2020 @9:30 PM

Article image
The False Servant review – deception, disguise and filthy lucre
Martin Crimp’s crisp translation of Marivaux’s comedy never feels overplayed and highlights the seductive allure of money

Miriam Gillinson

14, Jun, 2022 @1:11 PM

Article image
Shaw Shorts review – a double dose of delightful comedy
Two plays explore George Bernard Shaw’s questioning of social values, directed by Paul Miller as a pointer towards Pinter

Mark Lawson

27, May, 2021 @11:03 AM