Tag: Romanie Harper

Malthouse Presents LITTLE EMPERORS

Brave, beautiful and necessary

 By Leeor Adar

2016 saw the glass-globe political bubble of China’s One Child Policy shatter. Picking up the pieces of what is presented as a haunted generation of youth and families, the brave new work of Lachlan Philpott and director Wang Chong is both penetrating and poignant.

Little Emperors - Yuchen-Wang-Photo-by-Tim-Grey.jpg

A talented cast drive this absorbing story of Kaiwen (Yuchen Wang), separated from a family he is too young to remember and suddenly asked to return to the world that rejected him. His tenuous connection with his sister, Huishan, (Alice Qin) harbours a familiar Chinese communal secret, and we are plunged into a world built on memory, the subconscious and heartbreaking reality. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching character is that of their mother, played with such varied and breathtaking emotion by Diana [Xiaojie Lin] – a character so tormented by living the life she endured against her will.

Philpott’s writing is achingly familiar as it speaks to something even I, an outsider, can recognise as the universal desire for closeness with our kin. Philpott’s opportunity to visit Beijing and meet with local people whilst collaborating with Chong has given a real dimension to his work. It would be easy to dismiss Philpott’s writing as another outsider attempting to discuss the unrelatable, but Little Emperors provides a rare glimpse into a world rarely discussed or acknowledged by its own people. In the play, Kaiwen now living in Melbourne directs his own work to confront the One Child Policy, but his cast one by one vanish as they find unearthing their secrets either too painful or unspeakable.

Where this play is overall potent, the uncomfortable dialogue and acting between Kaiwen and his sound technician (Liam Maguire) distracts. While it would be easy to dismiss the relationship between these two characters, it reveals a savage loneliness of Kaiwen. This loneliness breathes throughout the play as our characters battle inner torments they find difficult to express to those around them. It is evident that those who live in Kaiwen’s originating home struggle with what occurred in their own way.

The staging of Little Emperors is visually and stylistically brilliant. The entire stage is one murky pool of water through which our characters navigate uniquely. Kaiwen walks in the water with ease, but he also uses it with a violence to convey his own turbulent mind. Little white chairs serve as stepping-stones for the women, as they, chair after chair, exhaustingly negotiate every social interaction with forced labour. In one scene, the mother beats her own body with the body of water, side to side, in an unrelenting force of self-flagellation. Romanie Harper’s set design is so effective I cannot think of a more fluid use of staging to convey the inner tumult and complexities of these characters. Nothing is left unused or unturned on the Little Emperors stage. James Paul’s sound design matches the staging with a moodiness that permeates everything around it – this little world created before us grips us in an oxymoron of vitality and gloom.

I walk out of the theatre feeling closer to a truth I heard about in passing, and I feel for a moment closer to a community I have had limited interaction with. Australian audiences can gain much by seeing this work, and it assists in breaking cultural boundaries and giving insights where none have really been offered before. This is brave, beautiful and necessary theatre.

Little Emperors will be performed until the 26 February at the Malthouse Theatre. Bookings: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/little-emperors

Image by Tim Grey

REVIEW: Louris Van De Geer’s TRIUMPH

Real stories of problematic victims

By Myron My

In defiance of its title, Louris Van De Geer’s Triumph is a trilogy of thematically linked and emotionally disturbing stories that explore people’s desire to connect with others. With Triumph, Van De Geer confirms why she was named as one of Melbourne Writers Festival’s ’30 under 30’ best young writers. Bringing her words to life are a talented and dedicated cast of five – Aljin Abella, Syd Brisbane, Anouk Gleeson-Mead, Emma Hall and Leone White – who irrespective of being the main character of one story or the supporting role with thirty seconds of stage time in another, ensure that their characters consistently retain depth, authenticity and real humanity to them.


The first story takes inspiration from Tania Head, a woman who revealed she survived the Twin Towers from the 78th floor of the World Trade Centre. Head went on to become president of the World Trade Centre Survivors’ Network support group and spent countless years helping survivors heal. However, in 2007, it was revealed that Head wasn’t even in America at the time of the attacks but had fabricated her entire story. White convincingly brings out the conflicting nature of this woman who on the one hand is compassionate and empathetic, but on the other, is duplicitous and manipulative. Director Mark Pritchard does a great job with utilising the entire space available and ensuring that everything that happens on stage has the audience’s attention, to the point where I was so transfixed by what was going on centre stage that I almost missed a pivotal scene occurring simultaneously side of stage.

The second piece has Hall and Gleeson-Mead playing a mother and daughter, with the daughter sick in hospital, unknowingly a victim of Munchausen by Proxy. As with the first piece, Van De Geer’s writing style ensure that we are drip-fed pieces of intriguing information that keeps us constantly wondering what exactly is going on, until suddenly it is made clear. The complexity of the desire to be needed is explored quite effectively to the point where you’re not quite sure how to feel by the time this story concludes. There are some strongly nuanced performances by Hall and fourteen-year-old Gleeson-Mead, as they explore this unique mother-daughter relationship.

The third story, based on suicide pacts in Japan, shows two strangers meeting up who have decided to end their lives together. Abella and Brisbane are very relaxed with their characters and their interactions with each other feel quite natural given the circumstances they find themselves in. Romanie Harper‘s set design is at its best with this story, with a number of ominous-looking trees seemingly enveloping the two men. Amelia Lever-Davidson‘s lighting design further enhances the darkness and loneliness, which is brilliantly encapsulated with an evocative final scene.

Triumph is a dark look at how we are constantly looking for connections to other people, even if it is through tragedy or deceit. While the stories do not all have a neat resolution with everything explained, Van De Geer’s thought-provoking script allows you to come to your own conclusions as to how we should regard these people. When you get right down to it, we are all just looking for a purpose for existing, no matter how misguided we may be in finding that purpose.

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 28 February | Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sun 3pm
$35 Full | $28 Conc

Bookings: fortyfive downstairs

Image by Sarah Walker