Thursday, August 24, 2023



Written by Michelle Law

Directed by Courtney Stewart

Presented by the Canberra Theatre Centre and Belvoir St Theatre

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 26 August.


Reviewed by Len Power 23 August 2023


In ‘Miss Peony’, Lily’s grandmother was a beauty queen back in Hong Kong. She doesn’t care that times have changed, that Lily lives in a new country and a new century. She sees a granddaughter caught between worlds.  No matter how hard Lily tries to wriggle out of it, her grandma won’t take no for an answer.

Michelle Law’s comedy has a lot to say about the experience of a Chinese girl born in Australia and not feeling at home in either culture.  She thinks of herself as an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) and like a banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.  It’s not just about the difficulty of feeling Australian but looking Chinese, it’s also about the expectations demanded by a traditional culture that is hard to relate to.

Director, Courtney Stewart, keeps the show moving at a swift pace.  The arguments between Lily and her grandmother are the highlight of the show.  The Beauty Queen Contest provides ripe opportunities for a great deal of the humour but, behind the scenes, there is just as much to laugh at as the girls prepare nervously for the various segments of a competition that demands a knowledge of Chinese traditional values that they just don’t have.

The set and the lavish costumes, designed by Jonathan Hindmarsh, are attractive and the clever lighting design by Trent Suidgeest works well for the supernatural scenes in the plot and the bright TV-style lighting needed for the competition.

Stephanie Jack as Lily and Gabrielle Chan as her grandmother, Adeline

A standout in the cast is Gabrielle Chan as Lily’s grandmother, Adeline.  Formidably bossy and demanding, she is a force of nature throughout the show, providing many of the best laughs.  Stephanie Jack as Lily, the Australian-Chinese girl struggling to fit into a contest that her grandmother has pushed her into, gives an appealing and  finely detailed performance of a girl caught between two cultures and feeling she belongs to neither.

The other contestants are more stereotypes but they are played well with good comic timing by Deborah Faye Lee as Marcy, Mabel Li as Sabrina and Shirong Wu as Joy.  Jeffrey Liu nicely captures the character of the polished and flashy pageant host, Zhen Hua.

Jeffrey Liu as Zhen Hua with the four contestants

There was too much emphasis on the pageant scenes in the second half of the show and the resolution of the supernatural element was weak.  The strength of the play was in the cultural conflicts experienced by Lily and the other contestants and the amusing way they were presented.

The show is surtitled in English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese as the characters switch between English, Cantonese and Mandarin, just as they would do in real life.  At times, we were distracted from the frenzied stage business by the need to read the surtitles, but otherwise it was good that the surtitles had been provided.

It certainly was refreshing to see a play told from the Chinese-Australian point of view.


Photos by Jason Lau

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at