REVIEW: I am Rachel Chu (Basement Theatre)

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth

Here’s looking at you, Rachel Chu

I Am Rachel Chu is a pleasure to watch. It is perfectly pitched for The Basement but has the ambition to travel further and spread the ‘crazy’ young Asian vibe that brings enjoyment, enlightenment and encouragement to anyone lucky enough to experience this fun-filled production.

Taking inspiration from the book and film Crazy Rich Asians, this show is an honest, thought-provoking revelation of Asian life at its core.  It is a great commentary on what the cast liked and/or disliked about the famous work.  

I Am Rachel Chu peels back the layers exposing Asian stereotypes and ultimately breaking them.  All three ensemble cast members portray various personas of Rachel Chu with exhilarating, risqué and expansive performances.  We particularly enjoy seeing theatre regulars Amanda Grace Leo and Ravikanth Gurunathan, who have both grown into their own, work brilliantly together with their high energy performances.  Newcomer Angela Zhang also sparkles with a knowing wit and an ironic smile throughout, which complements her fellow ‘Rachels’ impeccably. All three actors reveal a lot – in the flesh, emotionally or through their sheer commitment to conveying their message(s). And correspondingly their irrepressible excitement warms and infiltrates the audience.

Although seemingly structured in chapters, the performances felt wonderfully fresh, spontaneous and giving.  It’s great fun to see the response of the cast to the more random, unscripted moments which they pull off brilliantly through sheer talent, coupled with infectious nods and winks to the audience.  The fourth wall is continuously broken through audience participation.  Instead of being the dreaded parts of the show, the performers manage to put everyone at ease by skilfully seducing volunteers to join in with great aplomb.

Although the show follows the sense and sensibilities of Crazy Rich Asians, it is the very Kiwi-Asian treatment that makes it so relatable to everyone present.  Narrated and directed by Nathan Joe, the unfolding scenes bring non-Asian and Asian audiences together through familiar familial connections.  Many parental attitudes and acerbic comments will be frighteningly familiar and cut to the bone. But the fact that they are given an absurdist and sometimes slapstick treatment lubricates the delivery of the message into something important and palatable.

Dione Joseph’s dramaturgy has cleverly clipped this devised show into a rip-roaring romp while Bhavesh Bhuthadia’s minimal, but effective set provides the perfect foil to enhance the break-neck speed of this production.  The on-stage costume changes augment the dangerous edge to the production and it’s a treat to watch a cast that’s fully committed to deliver, come hell or high water.

It is heartening to see that Asian theatre is moving past venting frustrations and inequality, to the point of being able to provide commentary, mockery and self-criticism with confidence.  Having not seen the first iteration of the show I was very happy to have caught the return season and totally support The Basement’s decision to reprogram this.  

I Am Rachel Chu is clearly more like ‘We are Rachel Chu’ as this is a truly ensemble collaboration.  Smartly conceived, with skilled practitioners, and a commitment to entertain, this is exactly the sort of Basement-style mucking in, resourceful, talented, fun-and-follies show that we love watching and think fondly about long after.

I am Rachel Chu plays Basement Theatre until 10 August. 

SEE ALSO: Cynthia Lam’s review of the Auckland Fringe 2019 season

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