As a nation, Australia is becoming increasingly more diverse – with the latest census results showing that half of us were either born or had at least one parent born overseas. It is only natural then that our stories are becoming more diverse, our identities richer and more varied and our children are learning about and drawing from many different cultures – including their own.
Our family is amongst those who fall into this category, and is no doubt part of the reason that Oliver Phommavanh’s book, Thai-riffic resonated with my 8-year-old daughter as she is starting to discover who she is and her part in the world. It was a pleasant surprise then to bump into Oliver in the lobby of the Monkey Baa Theatre and let him know that he had a fan, who of course was too embarrassed to admit as much! With a background in Primary School teaching and a personal story to draw from, the author was keen to point out that he wanted to highlight some of the more light-hearted and funny side of trying to fit in that would help young people understand that its ok to be different.
As we settled into the sold out session there was a tangible air of excitement amongst the audience, many of whom would have been familiar with the book on which the play is based. The story centres on Albert Lengviriyakul, a pre-teen who is fed up of being Thai and is desperate to just ‘fit in’ with his Aussie schoolmates. He is keen to distance himself from his father’s Thai restaurant and would rather spend his time learning to play cricket than help out at the family business. The more he tries to deny who he is however, the more he comes to realise that everyone, including his own father, has something from their background that may be embarrassing to them, but to others it makes for a much richer and more fascinating person.
Whilst the play touches on some potentially heavy topics, it does so with a very light handed touch, and it never feels like it is over the heads of the predominately young audience. The clever audio-visual cues along with the timing and delivery of the comedic elements keeps the play moving along at a good pace, with plenty of laughs and humour to entertain both the kids and the adults, including a memorable audience participation workout video and a few jokes just for the grown-ups. The best part according to both my kids was one such comedic incident involving an excessive amount of toilet paper which had them, and much of the rest of the audience in hysterics. The script is brought to life by a tight ensemble of high energy actors who clearly enjoy the piece as much as the audience do, made even more real by a few nice touches including takeaway menus distributed to the audience and some real Thai cooking on stage that filled the theatre with fragrant spices – which just before lunch time certainly made me hungry.
All up this is an accessible yet thought-provoking piece of theatre that engages both children and adults alike and helps everyone come to the same conclusion that Albert does at the end of his journey that ultimately he is the same-same but different – and that is a good thing. And my daughter’s verdict? Dad, Thai-Riffic was Terrific!
You can catch Thai-riffic at Monkey Baa Theatre Darling Quarter between the 4th and the 8th July. This is one show you can’t miss! Book you tickets HERE.