Beginning today, for a limited season, Monkey Baa Theatre Company is presenting The Theatre Division’s original play Thai-riffic! at Sydney’s Lendlease Darling Quarter Theatre. A brand new Australian play specifically for young audiences, Thai-riffic! is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Oliver Phommavanh. It’s been adapted for the stage by Nathan Luff and directed by Lisa Freshwater.
Thai-riffic! is the story of Albert ‘Lengy’ Lengviriyakul, the son of Thai immigrants who own a restaurant called Thai-riffic! – a fact that causes him great embarrassment. About to start high school, Lengy is determined to transform his image. But when his teacher sets an assignment that focuses on another culture, he realises that getting away from his past will be more of a challenge than he anticipated.
“It’s a coming of age story. [He] wants to get rid of anything about his background and culture and history and his very embarrassing family, and discovers throughout that his uniqueness is what makes him his best self,” director Lisa Freshwater tells Theatre People.
According to Freshwater, the novel is based on Phommavanh’s own experiences growing up.
“He wrote it because he grew up Thai-Australian and had that experience of straddling two cultures”, she says.
The cast of Thai-riffic! includes Jemwel Danao (A Man with Five Children), Nat Jobe (Room on the Broom), Kate Betcher (A Tale of Two Cities), Lap Phan (Australia Day) and Graeme McRae (The Gruffalo).
Freshwater says the effort to bring Phommavanh’s novel to the stage began back in 2014. She talks about one of the challenges faced in creating the stage adaptation.
“There are lots of characters in the novel [and] the novel’s very episodic. So, we really wanted to look at a way of giving the piece a narrative arc, giving the characters objectives and obstacles and all the things that they’d need to drive the play,” she explains.
“We also needed to ensure that young people who had read the book would see the novel on stage … The novel also contains a number of comic strips … and we’ve picked them up and animated some of them so that they become segues, they’re within the scenes, [and] they’re something that will help give the visual identity to the piece.”
Freshwater also talks about the incorporation of video content into Thai-riffic!
“I feel like it’s unique to this production,” she says. “Video is obviously quite a generic part of theatre now. It’s not anything new or cutting edge. But I feel like the way that we’ve created this video … we’ve really drawn it from the story, from the characters. Evi O, who’s the illustrator in the book, has created the illustrations which have been animated, and we’re looking at ways of ensuring that they come to life with the actors on stage in a unique way. I’m really excited about putting those elements together.”
Theatre People asks Freshwater why Thai-riffic! is such a timely piece to bring to the stage.
“I think in schools, there is a real drive to be true to who you are, and identity is a big part of that,” she says. “I think that’s still something that a lot of Australia struggles with. I think telling a story and putting someone from a diverse cultural background at the centre of the piece but not making it about the diversity – simply making it their true story – is what makes this story really interesting and really resonate universally.”
She also emphasises the fact that Thai-riffic! is full of humour.
“It allows people into that world without making judgment or preaching in any way, and I think that’s why the books are so attractive,” she adds.
So, what would she like young theatregoers to take away from their experience at Thai-riffic!?
“Everybody has embarrassing families and everyone goes through a stage where they want to go out and find their own unique voice, but generally come back to realise that … what they were given as children has really helped to shape and define who they are, and that’s what makes them their best selves.”
Thai-riffic! – SEASON DETAILS
A production by The Theatre Division, presented by Monkey Baa Theatre Company
WHEN: 10.30am and 12.30pm from 4th to 8th July, Relaxed performance – 12.30pm on 6th July
FOR: Ages 7 – 14
VENUE: Lendlease Darling Quarter Theatre: Terrace 3, 1 – 25 Harbour Street, Sydney (across from the Children’s Playground at Darling Quarter)
TICKETS: $29pp / $104 Family of 4 / $125 Family of 5 / $25pp Groups of 10+ / $19 Relaxed Performance (no booking fees apply)
BOOKINGS: www.monkeybaa.com.au or 02 8624 9340