Jade Empress Discovers Australia

23 Sep

If you look to the right of my blog you will see that I divide my articles into various categories. One category is Interviews with Artists.

I do these interviews by email. I ask pretty much the same questions of everyone and then simply publish the answers. It’s an opportunity for artists to promote their shows. Each time, I tell the interviewee to write as little or as much as she likes, and I tell her to feel free to ignore any questions she thinks are just plain stupid.

And there is one question artists often choose to ignore: What would you like your audience to think about, or feel?

If artists do answer the question, it’s common for them to write that the audience can think or feel anything they like. (Which strikes me as simply stating the obvious. Of course audiences will respond in multiple ways to your production. But surely you had an aim.)

I’ve even had artists tell me they don’t want their audiences to think about or feel anything at all.

I find this sort of response extraordinary. Sometimes I imagine these artists have confused ‘think about’ with ‘think’. There’s a reluctance to present theatre that could be perceived as preachy. (Imagine, the audience might squirm uncomfortably in their seats.)

But if a play doesn’t lead its audience to think about particular things then perhaps it has no textual integrity. Romeo and Juliet is about love. What exactly it says about love might be a point of contention, but that’s what the play tries to do: get you thinking, and arguing, about it.

So what am I to make of artists who won’t answer the question ‘What would you like your audience to think about, or feel?’ That they have nothing to say? Or that they are frightened?

Photo by Diana Popovska

Photo by Diana Popovska


Neither is true of Jade Empress Discovers Australia.

This cabaret is genuine, heartfelt and courageous. (And it played to a full house. Including a newborn; her presence putting all our theatrical games into perspective.)

Jade tells stories from her life, beginning with her migration from Malaysia as a three-year old. There are stories of good fortune, of finding herself in a lucky country. And there are stories of bad fortune, as she and those around her find themselves victims of racism.

With clever appropriations and subversions of some classic Aussie songs, Jade questions whether Australia could do better. She questions our treatment of refugees and the poor, and asks how we can continue to work for reconciliation with the indigenous people of this land.

Jade has a strong voice, and the accompaniment by Pete Ogilvie is wonderful.

The piece as a whole could be more tightly structured, but it has a moving honesty. And it ends with a question that is simple, sincere and absolutely vital: What will you do to make our country a better place?

Did the audience squirm? Did they think ‘This is not what art is meant to do’?

There was applause, and cheering, and a baby cried.

Veronica Kaye


Jade Empress Discovers Australia

Imperial Hotel, Cabaret Room

The season for this production has closed.


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