Asian Australian Artists

REVIEW: “THE ONE” Is A Compelling And Creative Eurasian Story About Family And Idenity

By Guest Contributor Thomson Ch’ng And Editor Erin Wen Ai Chew

NSW Convener for the Asian Australian Alliance (AAA) and the National President for the Australian Malaysian Singaporean Association (AMSA) watched the play and here is his review on what he thought of it!

THE ONE by the award-winning playwright Vanessa Bates is a story about two Malaysian-Australian siblings, Mel (Angie Diaz) and Eric (Shan-Ree Tan), grappling with the impending visit of their dominating mother Helene (Gabrielle Chan), and what it means to be Eurasian. 

This is a highly energised performance at the Ensemble Theatre. The usage of the theatre space was very compelling and creative. From the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers inspired ballroom dancing sequences, to a thrilling surprise performance starring little brother Eric (Shan-Ree Tan) later on, audiences were thrilled to watch THE ONE that is filled with joy and entertainment. 

Image via The Ensemble Theatre

The play however, does illustrate the common stereotype, identity politics and racism in Australia. The overt nature of this is embodied by the stage setting, which as Eric describes is decked out “like a regional mid ’90s Chinese restaurant”. 

The large sign in Chinese characters which reads “no returns” to riff off the stereotype of stinginess and a baffling fixation on spring rolls as a bastion of Chinese food to Australians. 

Mel and Eric’s sense of connection to their home state of Penang were illustrated well, through sensory recollections.  Through these, the audience is transported to the sticky seaside climate; introduced to the funerary tradition of burning paper objects to take to heaven, and the paying of respects to ancestors during the Festival of Hungry Ghosts.

Overall, a great and heartfelt performance and The One for recommendation to all. 

Playwright for “The One” Vanessa Bates, shared with editor Being Asian Australian Erin Wen Ai Chew recently on some of her thoughts on why she created this story and how it reflects her own experiences growing up Eurasian in Australia.

The One is a story about family and about the relationship between a brother and sister. Writing this play I came to realise that as an Eurasian woman we are looked upon and seen as different from both sides of our identity. I am one of 4 daughters and I knew as a child that I looked different and tried to fit in wherever me and my family lived. We grew up in regional Australia and spent years with my mum in Malaysia, Bates said.

It is very confusing for a young person who is Eurasian, negotiating our relationship with our dual identity and with our family. This is what I put into writing The One.

Image via The Ensemble Theatre

Bates later shared some emotional scars she has of her work, specifically when she wrote a play about her own family and her mum who died of breast cancer. These emotions and the setbacks she has faced has made her a better playwright and more resolute to write more Asian/Asian Australian stories and the Eurasian Australian experience.

There was one point in my younger years that I wrote a play about my family, my Eurasian experience and about my mum who battled and lost her fight with breast cancer. It was very autobiographical and placed highly in a playwright competition. Then someone high up in the industry at the time told me that despite the play being a good story they couldn’t cast it as it wasn’t broad enough – we all know what that means.

I was both sad and angry that they couldn’t put my story on stage, and I learned very early on that as a young playwright I shouldn’t be writing stories about being Asian, Eurasian and about my own family experience. Really I was gatekeeping myself. But one day, I woke up and thought if I want to change the industry to be able to tell our stories, then I must write it. So now I take those setbacks and experiences to write and showcase diverse stories.

“The One” will be playing at The Ensemble in Kirribilli till August 27, so please go to the website to purchase your tickets and support this awesome play!

Images via The Ensemble

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