A variety meal [by Matt Baker]
From the Chinese lanterns that adorn the Basement Studio stairwell to the Beckoning Cat and incense in the hallway, Chop/Stick, presented by Chairman Meow Productions, immediately sets the tone for an overall theatrical experience. What makes it noteworthy is that it does not only set an ethnic specific tone, but generates an atmosphere that resonates through the play as a whole. With a fear of being limited by her ethnicity Michelle Ang has teamed up with first time full-time playwright Jo Holsted and actor/director Sophie Roberts to create a one-woman show that celebrates her niche as an actress, which, ironically yet no doubt purposefully, highlights her range.
While Ang’s performance is slightly inflated at times, specifically when inhabiting skins that are further from her age or sex, it works cohesively with the style of the play as a whole and makes for great clarity between characters. Ang also finds a nice array of idiosyncrasies in both her vocal work (accents and cadences are spot on) and cultural demeanor between all 13 of them. Though somewhat mechanical in her initial delivery of the dialogue, she quickly warmed to the audience (and vice versa), and found a nice rhythm and rapport. This ability to engage and play with an audience organically cannot be understated. Add to this her seamless coping with the odd opening night nerve-induced line fluff and mechanical problem, and one can only conclude that Ang is a consummate professional.
Roberts has found a wide range of ways for Ang to play on stage. The simple stage design by Isobel Dryburgh and the odd prop here and there is all that is needed to illustrate the changes of character and narrative beats of the script. Each element is utilised well and never overworked, and it is this constant development through the play that Roberts’ uses to both prevent anything becoming clichéd and keep the audience engaged. Rachel Marlow’s lighting and sound design had the odd issue and was occasionally a distraction to as opposed to supportive of Ang’s performance.
Holsted’s script is not exactly loaded, but it doesn’t profess to be so. The entire ethos of the show’s self-proclaimed irreverence is written in black and white both in the menu style programme (genius) and in the dialogue itself. That’s not to say that there aren’t one or two absolute gems planted in the script (a Japanese English-language student dealing with racism and a fruit shop owner’s anecdotal reference to his son’s observations as a 6th generation New Zealand could not have been more acutely articulated), simply that aside from the two main plots (following the cultural contrast between Evie and her grandmother, and a budding romance between the affable Steve and the endearing Melissa), the majority of the play is a patch-work of storylines which, and characters who, serve merely as loose sub-plots or comedic interspersions respectively. While not necessarily leaving you feeling full, Chop/Stick certainly has a great amount of variety and easily sustains its entertainment value for the full hour. A unique dish.
Chop/Stick is presented by Chairman Meow Productions and plays at The Basement Studio until 24 November. Details see The Basement.
We also highly recommend Rosabel Tan’s conversation with Michelle and Jo over at The Pantograph Punch.