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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Laurinda (MTC) - 100 minutes (with no interval)

Bullying and racism are not acceptable in any environment and yet the schoolyard can be a hotbed of discontent.

So it is for 15-year-old Lucy Lam (Ngoc Phan), the daughter of hard working parents who emigrated from Vietnam.

Photos by Jeff Busby

She is the recipient of the inaugural Equal Access Scholarship to a prestigious private school, where wealth is flaunted.

It is a far cry from how Lucy grew up.

A trio of mean girls, known as The Cabinet, capitalise on their privileged position and give Lucy – along with other students and teachers – a hard time.

Twenty-three years on and about to accept a teaching award from one of the girls who bullied her and subsequently attained high office, Lucy is a bundle of nerves.

As fate would have it, Lucy is magically transported back to year 10 at high school to relive what it was like and learn a valuable lesson.

Laurinda is a coming-of-age story about a struggle for identity and belonging, and such a tale never fails to resonate.

So it is that the satire unfolds in two time frames – 1997 and 2021.

It is based on Alice Pang’s 2014 debut novel, which has been translated for the stage by Diana Nguyen and Petra Kalive and is directed by the latter.

While there is much humour in it, there is no mistaking the ugly undercurrent.

Among the standouts in the seven-person cast is Gemma Chua-Tran, who makes her MTC theatre debut as the girl who takes Lucy on a journey of discovery.

She has a natural manner and spirited charm about her, ideally suited to the role.

Chi Nguyen is marvellous too as Lucy’s no fuss mother.

In fact, all cast members, but for Ngoc Phan – who greatly impresses in a dance sequence – fill multiple roles.

Roy Phung is empathetic as Lucy’s dad and history teacher.

While the opening night audience lapped up the over-the-top exuberance expressed by “the girls”, it grated on me. I would have preferred it to have been dialled down.

Untranslated Vietnamese has been woven into the dialogue (it is how Lucy’s mother, in particular, speaks to her at home) and that undoubtedly adds authenticity.

The creatives have also populated the piece with familiar songs from the ‘90s, which goes down a treat.

While I appreciated what the play was about and where it was coming from, I found it a bit glib and wasn’t totally sold.

Still, judging by the enthusiasm of those seated around me, Laurinda is bound to generate a loyal following.

One hour 40 minutes without interval, it is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 10th September, 2022.


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