Performed for the very first time at the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, these shows were a sell out. In fact, Diana and Fiona had to extend the season in order to please their Australian-Vietnamese loving fans.
Down a quiet alleyway off Latrobe St is Guildford Lane Gallery where the shows were held. I was particularly amused when I walked down this alleyway; it was a little mysterious yet intriguing that a gallery was based there. It goes to show that the best kinds of entertainment lie at the city’s heart, secretly locked away. The entrance to Guildford Lane Gallery offered an inviting jazzy feel as I entered the gallery. A couple of friends and I were greeted by the staff members of Phi And Me and led upstairs to level three.
Something to notice about the actual journey upstairs was the fact that it was a gallery, so beautiful pieces of fine art were mounted on the walls and sculptures filled the rooms. Entering level three, the atmosphere was lively despite the fact that the venue could only hold up to about 50 people per show. Small, intimate and rather sophisticated. The lights dimmed and the crowd quietened. There in the spotlight stood Fiona as the little Vietnamese teenager Phi telling the audience about what it is, exactly, that makes growing up in Australia as an Asian so typically irritating to him. All of which I could relate to.
Situations where Phi’s mother (like many other Vietnamese mothers) would bargain for lower prices even at supermarkets like Coles, right down to attacking the teacher for allowing Phi to choose drama as a subject at school. The typical Asian rule is: Go to school, study, get As, and become a doctor so you can look after your mother when she gets sick. Phi’s mother also likes to remind the audience that she “work so hard in da factory, get da money to look after you. I very tired, you don’t care about me” every time Phi doesn’t study.
I must comment on Steve McPhail’s performance, taking on 8 different characters each time he took a turn backstage. Despite being an Anglo-Australian, he really catches on with the Vietnamese accent. It must be all the Pho he’s been gulping down at St James Avenue, Springvale. I particularly enjoyed the character of Phi’s aunty who resembles my aunty on all levels. Relatives who always compare and contrast their children to you as though you’re a literature essay about adaptations and transformations really irritate me and McPhail’s portrayal definitely set off the right tone for me.
Like they always say: don’t ever sit at the front when you’re at a comedy show; they get you up to do weird things. This definitely applied for Phi And Me, at one stage McPhail spat out Mi Goreng into the audience in character as Phi’s best mate. Fiona’s physique definitely pulled off the 14-year-old look. Her performance was outstanding, and made me wonder if the main story was a focus on Phi’s life or his mother’s. My favourite line from her from the entire show would probably have to be one of the final jokes:
“I know my mother missed eating dog, so I took her to a hot dog stand and she said to me “PHI! We do not eat that part of the dog!”.”
And finally, we’ve come to Diana Nguyen. I believe the spotlight was meant to be on Phi’s mother and it’s quite evident that when Diana’s on stage, she steals all the attention. Diana’s performance kept me on my feet and craving for more, and after an hour and a half I still did not want the show to end. Luckily, I got to speak to Diana on a personal level after the show. She smiled and said “You girls are so cute!” as she signed our Growing Up Asian in Australia books. Diana’s been acting since she was in year 8 and has written ’5 ways to disappoint your Vietnamese mother’ in Alice Pung’s anthology Growing Up Asian in Australia.
Phi and Me was a great show and definitely deserved a sell out! Definitely a 4.5 stars from me – I sure hope they return next year.