Laurinda, Southbank Theatre (VIC)

Adapted from Alice Pung’s novel, written by Diana Nguyen, directed & written by Petra Kalive

Reviewed by Astrid J

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Melbourne Theatre Company, Southbank Theatre
Until 10th September
Tickets $48 to $122.

Based on Alice Pung’s 2014 novel of the same name about 15 year old Lucy Lam, whisked away from her ‘povvo’ suburban life and into the prestigious, private, all-girls school ‘Laurinda’ after winning a scholarship, Laurinda examines the inevitable tensions between class, race and identity. The set, featuring three bathroom stalls with an ‘OUT OF ORDER’ sign tacked onto the furthest and a sink centre stage is surprisingly minimal, but the moment Ngoc Phan appears on stage as Lucy, we are completely immersed into the world of Laurinda

In what playwrights Diana Nguyen and Petra Kalive describe as a Freaky Friday twist, Laurinda opens with fully fledged adult Lucy – 38 and now a high school principal – a future we never see in the novel.  Lucy panics over having to receive an award from Brodie (Gemma Chua-Tran) – one of her past tormentors – until her alter ego Linh (also played by Chua-Tran) figuratively appears and forces her to relive her experiences from her beginnings at Laurinda. Both writers note in the programme that they ‘decided to set Laurinda deliberately in 1997 and 2021 – two periods of intense and visible Asian hate in Australia’. This change breathes new life into the story,while also allowing for Nguyen and Kalive to comment on how the prejudices Lucy faced at Laurinda were not isolated acts but rather, ones that she would continue to face post graduation. 

Writers Nguyen and Kalive balance out the heaviness of the play’s themes with with humour and lightheartedness all the way through. The contrast between Linh’s fiery, yet undeniably charming personality and the cool, calm and collected Mean Girls-esque demeanour of Brodie (leader of the ‘Cabinet’, a trio of wealthy, all-white girls who wielded power over theirclassmates and teachers) is cleverly portrayed by Chua-Tran, who shapeshifts between the movements and dialogue of both characters with ease. Chi Nguyen is captivating as Lucy’s mother, an unwavering force in Lucy’s life even when they are at odds with each other. The choice to have her speak a mix of Vietnamese and English adds realistic depth to Lucy’s dissonance in her identity; caught between wanting to stay true to her roots and her initial desire to become part of the ‘Cabinet’ of ‘cool’ girls. Lucy’s story asks a familiar question to many people of colour: how much of your culture are you willing to sacrifice to ‘fit in’?

Bold, funny, relatable and wholly inventive…

The absurdity of the time travel plotline that underpins the show does not go unnoticed, even amidst heartfelt conversations between characters and Lucy’s own realisations. It’s what keeps the show playful during its darkest moments – the audience knows that this is all happening inside Lucy’s head. Psychedelic-like projections play out on a digital screen on stage during several moments in the show where Linh interrupts to talk to Lucy, including a wall of repeating Linh faces and a myriad of neon-wave reminiscent graphics. 90s music is infused into the show by the audiovisual designteam (Eugyeene Teh, Marco Cher-Gibard, Justin Gardam, Roshelle Fong) in its most unexpected moments. Costume designer Karine Larché hits the nail on the head as well: from the Cabinet trio’s iconic colour coordinating stocking, to their outfits in the ‘jungle party’ scene (does anything scream attending a party at fifteen more than a garishly printed bodycon dress!), to the ESPRIT sweater donned by Lucy’s mum. 

Bold, funny, relatable and wholly inventive, Laurinda is a powerful exploration of class and race underscored by a killer soundtrack. It’ll keep you at the edge of your seat in both laughter and anticipation. And yet, when we finally return to the bathroom stalls at the play’s end, you’ll wonder if we ever really left.

Laurinda plays at the Southbank Theatre until the 10th of September. Find tickets here. Tickets are $48 to $122.


CAST 
Katie/Mrs Leslie/As cast Fiona Choi 
Linh/Brodie Gemma Chua-Tran 
Trisha/Mrs Grey/Mrs White/As cast Georgina Naidu 
Mum/Amber/Charlotte/As cast Chi Nguyen 
Lucy/Lucy-38 Ngoc Phan 
Dad/Dr Vanderwerp/As cast Roy Phung
Tully/Chelsea/Mrs Newberry/As cast Jenny Zhou

CREATIVE TEAM 
Director Petra Kalive 
Set Design and AV Concept & Design Eugyeene Teh 
Costume Designer Karine Larché 
Lighting Designer Rachel Lee 
Composer & Sound Designer Marco Cher-Gibard 
AV Designer Justin Gardam 
Movement Director Xanthe Beesley 
Assistant Director & AV Composition Roshelle Fong 
Cultural Consultant Alice Qin 
Voice & Dialect Coach Mark Wong 
Dance Consultancy Vietcharm Traditional Dance Group 
Rehearsal Stage Manager Christine Bennett 
Show Stage Manager Brittany Coombs 
Assistant Stage Manager 1 Whitney McNamara 
Assistant Stage Manager 2 Lucie Sutherland
Rehearsal Photographer Sarah Walker 
Production Photographer Jeff Busby 
Marketing Campaign Photographer Brett Walker 
Vietnamese dialogue by Chi Nguyen 


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