Theatre Review: Single Asian Female & interview with Courtney Stewart


Single Asian Female opened at Belvoir St Theatre on the weekend to an excited (sold out) audience and it’s the first Australian mainstage play to feature three Asian leads! This play is stylish and entertaining. It’s about an Asian-Australian family that owns a Chinese restaurant (The Golden Phoenix) in Nambour. The head of the family is Pearl, the quintessential matriarch – balancing family, business, and her love of karaoke, who runs the restaurant. She has two daughters, Zoe, the eldest, a classical musician, who’s in the throes of online dating, making big life decisions and Mei, the youngest, a teenager, struggling with her identity in modern Australia.  Pearl is constantly questioning her Westernised daughters, as they see the world differently to their mother. In the first act she reveals a secret that threatens to tear their family apart.

Playwright, Michelle Law’s frustration with the current theatre scene motivated her to write her debut play.

‘It shines a spotlight on labels; those we assign ourselves and others, and how we struggle against the limitations imposed by those labels in order to lead authentic lives…’

Last year, Single Asian Female was staged as a 60-minute reading of an untested playwright with support from La Boite and its partners, (Contemporary Asian Australian Performance & Playwriting Australia). Law has been given room to grow the story, and workshop it extensively. She has successfully helped change the landscape of Australian theatre which, over the years has been quintessentially white, by portraying this modern play representing multicultural Australia.


This production is exceptionally cast, with underlying tones of racial discrimination presented in a comedic way through its characters. In the first act we see Pearl in a cheongsam belting out I Will Survive, on top of a table in her family restaurant. We then learn about her hardships, how she survived through her marriage breakup and her resilience in bringing up her two daughters. Zoe being the peacemaker, and Mei who constantly wishing she was white like her school friends, Lana and Katie.

I had the honour of interviewing Courtney Stewart who plays Mei. Her performance was strong and truthful in playing a teenager growing up Asian in Australia.


Joy: What made you want to do Single Asian Female?

Courtney: After being involved in a reading of Single Asian Female, I ruthlessly pursued the development of this work. The dialogue is hilarious, the characters are unique and I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of this story. As a result of our season in Brisbane, there was a horde of new audience members finally seeing their faces and hearing their voices on stage. The power of representation is immense ~ and I really wanted to be a part of that.
Joy: What did the audition process involve?
Courtney: The audition process involved me reading a couple of scenes with Claire Christian (the director) and Michelle Law (the writer). We ended up in hysterics over the larger than life characters, but also dove into the heart wrenching reality of their personal dilemmas. Right from the start it was a collaborative process, which is by far my favourite way of making work.

Joy: What is your view on diversity in the arts (theatre, film. T.V)?

Do you see changes since the Diversity committee was formed?
Courtney: I say this to as many people who will listen: I believe it is the most exciting time to be an artist from a diverse background. There are opportunities that exist now that weren’t around when I started out in this industry and I can see how the Diversity Committee has been a valuable player in changing our monocultural Theatrical landscape. The Committee opens up channels of communication with major players in theatre, film and television so conversations around how to engage new artists can be had.
Joy: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Courtney: In 10 Years time I hope to be an artistic director of a major theatre company so I can be at the helm of making decisions that push towards a more cohesive and evenly represented industry.

I enjoyed watching this play because I feel it’s important to reflect diversity of our modern society on stage, so as a result -people feel that they belong.

Single Asian Female is currently showing at Belvoir St Theatre until March 25th, 2018.

18 & 25 Belvoir St Surry Hills
NSW 2010 Australia

Cast: Emily Burton
Lucy Heffernan

Patrick Jhanur
Alex Lee
Courtney Stewart
Hsiao-Ling Tang

By Michelle Law
Director Claire Christian
Set & Costume Designer Moe Assaad
Composer & Sound Designer Wil Hughes
Lighting Designer Keith Clark
Stage Manager Peter Sutherland
Assistant Stage Managers Katie Hurst & Keiren Smith

Photos courtesy of Belvoir & Michelle Law.

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