29 August 2023

'Glitzy and madcap' but hilarious and heartwarming, Miss Peony comes to Illawarra Performing Arts Centre

| Dione David
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Actors in rehearsal at Belvoir St Theatre for Miss Peony

Jing-Xuan Chan (left) plays Marcy in Miss Peony, a “glitzy and madcap” comedy of beauty pageants, unrealistic expectations and the business of family. Photos: Brett Boardman.

After two false starts (thanks, COVID), Miss Peony 牡丹小姐 is set to hit Illawarra Performing Arts Centre from tomorrow (30 August).

It’s said writer Michelle Law has an “unerring nose” for comic premise and this latest production is no exception.

The story follows Lily, a young Chinese Australian woman whose grandmother was a beauty queen back in Hong Kong. The stately family matriarch doesn’t care that times have changed or that her granddaughter lives in a new country and century. She pushes Lily into entering the highly competitive Miss Peony beauty pageant. Oh, and she’s a ghost.

Actors Michelle Law and Gabrielle Chan rehearsing for Miss Peony

Central to the plot is the relationship between Lily (played by Michelle Law 羅敏儀) and her grandmother Adeline (played by Gabrielle Chan 陳金燕).

Billed as a “glitzy and madcap” comedy of beauty pageants, unrealistic expectations and the business of family, it will be presented in three languages – English, Cantonese and Mandarin, with subtitles.

Performer Jing-Xuan Chan says while Chinese expatriates will “get a real kick” out of the nostalgia and authenticity of the production, it makes for the kind of comedy gold anyone can appreciate.

“Some of the Chinese references will land particularly well with Chinese Australians, but it’s really just funny and heart-warming for anyone to watch,” she says.

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Chan plays ambitious pageant contestant Marcy, a young Australian businesswoman from Shanghai who initially joins the pageant for the publicity it could bring to her family’s company, Ausway.

“Also, the prizemoney doesn’t hurt,” she laughs.

“But Marcy develops as a character in the course of the show. She comes in strong willed and laser focused to win. Then she gets to know the girls and in the end, forms all these beautiful friendships. She starts to see them as kindred spirits instead of just the competition.”

Like Lily, Marcy is caught in two worlds. Chan says the character development that takes place as they wrestle with this duality is highly relatable and “lovely to watch”.

“One of the most important relationships in the plot is between her and her grandma. Seeing that relationship play out in the context of all the generational, cultural and linguistic gaps between them is really special,” Chan says.

“Lily’s grandma only speaks Cantonese and Lily speaks mainly English, but they’re able to communicate.

“Lily struggles to live with her Chinese heritage and her ‘Australianness’ side by side. In entering the pageant, she’s confronted by these women who in a lot of ways embrace their ‘Asianness’ more than she does. It’s nice to see the effect that has on her, from the initial judgement to realising all the things they share and how that connection makes her feel more whole.

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“All of the characters represent different types of Asian women in Australia, from international students to people born in Australia who might’ve struggled with their cultural background and felt pressure to assimilate. As an Australian-Chinese woman, there are parts of all of them I personally relate to.

“One character talks about watching [Hong Kong television station] TVB with her family. I used to watch the soaps and dramas on that network, and it gave me a little jolt of nostalgia to see that simple pop culture reference.

“I think there will be a lot of moments like that throughout the show.”

Miss Peony runs at IMB Theatre, Illawarra Performing Arts Centre from 30 August to 2 September. Tickets cost $23 to $84, book here.

Original Article published by Dione David on Riotact.

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