Above – Jing Xuan Chan, Shirong Wu, Mabel Li, Stephanie Jack. Cover – Mabel Li & Jing Xuan Chan. Photos – Jason Lau

Belvoir's Miss Peony is a fresh, funny and enlightening take on the Asian -Australian experience. If Google translate can be relied on then: Miss Peony tāshì yíngjiā or Miss Peony is a winner!

The play, written by Michelle Law, entertains and educates in a witty tale of four contestants who vie for the title of Miss Peony. Irony, vulnerability, politics and the quest to find one’s place in a different culture are the cornerstones of this show.

It is a brilliant and joyful play that lays bear the soul of Asian-Australians, while also talking to anyone who has straddled two cultures, leaving one country for another, or growing up under the influence of parents and grandparents from the ‘old’ country.

Miss Peony may be to the Australian Chinese, what ‘Wog Boy’ was to the Australian Greek community – a way to portray complex experiences wrapped up in humour. Or, in other words, to slip political and cultural messages into a comedy.

Either way, this is a fun-filled production that romps along at a good pace thanks to the slick direction of Courtney Stewart.

Like the play, which straddles two cultures, so does the dialogue. Surtitles above a simple stage setting translate the English and the Chinese.

Central to the story is the relationship between Lily (Stephanie Jack) and her grandmother, Poh Poh (Gabrielle Chan). Young Lily is ready to break free from her past, leaving Australia for the big smoke in London. However, her dying grandmother has different ideas. A bed-side promise sees Poh Poh in limbo until her granddaughter fulfills a promise to enter the Miss Peony contest.

Stephanie Jack skilfully portrays Lily’s struggle to integrate the Australian and Asian sides of her life, to understand herself and the choices that face her as a young Asian in a western culture. Gabrielle Chan is delightful as her ghostly grandmother Poh Poh. Chan’s Poh Poh is a tough proponent of the old ways, and yet also delightfully mischievous, and an excellent foil for her somewhat intense granddaughter.

Law has been ingenious with her choice of characters for the other entrants. Each one is delightfully flawed, somewhat incongruous and yet totally endearing.

Jin-Xuan Chan plays the role of Marcy, an earnest entrant who is representing her family’s business. Chan’s Marcy is a devout businesswoman, loyal family member and somewhat priggish, softening towards the end. (No other plot spoilers).

The role of Sabrina is played by Mabel Li, and in Li’s hands, we have a strident, often hilarious contestant, who is determined to stand-out. Li’s Sabrina draws much laughter from the younger Asian-Australians.

Shirong Wu plays the fourth contestant, sweet-natured and aptly named Joy. Wu’s performance as Joy is heartwarming and enchanting, with a hint of naughtiness.

Jeffrey Liu deftly plays the role of Zhen Hua, the compere of the Miss Peony contest, keeping pace with the shenanigans of the four contestants.

Belvoir's Miss Peony clearly appeals to the young Asian-Australians in the audience, and yet it has a wider reach as well. This is a comedy that touches the heart, while entertaining and educating.

Law can confidently poke fun at her own culture, while also portraying its strengths and beauty. Peonies, once the national flower of China, symbolise opulence, beauty and honour. The aptly named play, Miss Peony, draws on the traditional culture while also showing a way forward for a new one.

Event details

Arts Centre Melbourne in association with AsiaTOPA, Belvoir Street Theatre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre presents
Miss Peony
by Michelle Law

Director Courtney Stewart

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne | Fairfax Studio VIC
Dates: 2 August – 20 August 2023
Tickets: $69 – $35
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Check website for details – belvoir.com.au/productions/miss-peony-tour-2023/


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