Thursday, August 24, 2023



Miss Peony 牡丹小姐 . 

Writer Michelle Law 羅敏儀 Director Courtney Stewart. Set & Costume Designer Jonathan Hindmarsh. Assistant Set & Costume Designer Keerthi Subramanyam. Belvoir Costume Supervisor Belinda Crawford. Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest. Composer Dr Nicholas Ng 黄建文 .Sound Designer Julian Starr. Associate Sound Designer Zac Saric. Choreographer Kristina Chan 陈小宝. Singing Teacher Sheena Crouch. Vocal Coach Laura Farrel.l Vocal Coach Amy Hume. Fight and Intimacy Director Nigel Poulton. Cast: CAST Gabrielle Chan 陳金燕 Adeline. Jing-Xuan Chan 陳敬璿 Marcy. Stephanie Jack 盧恩典 Lily. Deborah Faye Lee 李淑菲 Marcy (Alternate). Mabel Li 李美宝 Sabrina. Shirong Wu 吴士容 Joy. Jeffrey Liu (JËVA) Zhen Hua. Belvoir Theatre. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. August 23-25 2023. Bookings: 62752700.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Gabrielle Chan as Adeline. Stephanie Jack as Lily in Miss Peony

Patti La Belle’s lyrics flash across the screen at the start of Belvoir Theatre’s production of Michelle Law’s  Miss Peony. “Beat my heart like a drum. Beat it hard with some real emotion. ” And that is exactly what Law does, assisted by a fabulous cast under the snappy and sharp direction of Courtenay  Stewart. Wit and wisdom combine in a kaleidoscope of glitz and glamour in Michelle Law’s funny and heartwarming comedy about what it is to straddle two cultures. Miss Peony specifically refers to the Australian-Chinese diaspora and the challenges faced by living under the influence of two cultures. Law’s story is deeply personal. It holds a mirror up to the challenges that she and her characters face in holding on to one’s ethnic identity while navigating the influence of living within the culture and customs of the adopted homeland. The result is a brilliantly written glimpse of her Chinese heritage, which emerges as a window through which we may see the conflicts faced by all people who live their lives apart from their family’s homeland.

Lily (Stephanie Jack) is about to leave for London to face a new life away from Australia. Her grandmother who had been a famous beauty queen in Hong Kong, dies shortly before Lily’s proposed departure. On her death bed she pleads with Lily to enter the Miss Peony Beauty pageant that is exclusively held for entrants of Chinese descent. Lily is reluctant but finds that she has no choice after her Por Por’s spirit returns as a ghost to instruct Lily in the beauty queen’s art.

Courtenay Stewart directs an outstanding ABC (Australian Born Chinese) ensemble cast with panache and flair. Setting the play in the Miss Peony Beauty Pageant allows Law to infuse the gloss and glamour of the competition with serious themes and issues pertaining to the struggle with identity and cultural connection to community. Her writing skillfully captures the comical absurdity of the competitiveness as well as the moments of pathos.  The characters represent a diversity of the Australian Chinese character. Stephanie Jack endearingly plays the innocent protagonist, prompted to embrace her grandmother’s legacy and her Chinese heritage. Each character exhibits the inculcation of the new homeland’s character. Marcy (Deborah Faye Lee) has become a successful businesswoman of Ausway, her family’s firm. Joy (Shirong Wu) is a politically astute activist and staunch feminist. Sabrina (Mabel Li) is the bogan from the Western suburbs, who is offered a fork in a Chinese restaurant because of her broad Australian accent. The only male character and Lily’s love interest, Zhen Hua, played with gusto by Jeffrey Liu is the pageant’s producer and ebullient MC. Gabrielle Chan gives a striking performance as Adeline, returning to teach Lily the ways of her community and win the competition.

Law has written the play in English, Cantonese and Mandarin and the dialogue is projected onto surtitles, further accentuating the cultural challenges that every character needs to negotiate as well as the wealth of cultural diversity that exists in Australia. The production resonates with universality. The first act reveals the insecurities that any audition/interview process can arouse, The second act is set during the pageant, exposing behind the scenes male sexual lharrasment, cultural attitudes towards gay sexuality and, in the case of the Miss Peony Pageant camaraderie between the contestants.

Miss Peony is a funny, revealing and warm-hearted glimpse into the lives of people displaced from their cultural roots and assimilating into a new society. Playwright Law and Belvoir’s cast and creatives are raising an important new awareness on the Australian stage in a show that is immensely entertaining while reminding us that however different we may be, we are also very much the same. Miss Peony is on a national tour. Catch it if you can.