Theatre review: Flake, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre

A story of family, connection and dislocation set in Hanoi.
Flake. Image is a grungy kitchen theatre set with two people sitting at a table, a young woman of Asian appearance on a stool with white shirt, grey trousers and hands on knees and an older bent over man with black trousers, white shirt, glasses and straggly grey hair.

Flake by Dan Lee is a play about migration and living away from home and family. Bob (Robert Menzies), an Australian man who has been living in Hanoi for several years, has a visitor from Australia, Murph (Joe Petruzzi), who is an old friend. The two share an easy camaraderie, but have sharp philosophical disagreements, chiefly on the issue of connectivity with family. 

Murph is a bit of larrikin and seems to lead a peripatetic life, but makes a solid effort to stay in contact with his children, who are dispersed around the globe. As Bob has grown older and frailer, and more entrenched in Vietnam, he has lost contact with his son in Australia. Bob leads a solitary but self-sufficient and contented existence in Hanoi, which he loves, but Murph is concerned about him and worried that what appears to be dementia may soon incapacitate him. 

Murph wants Bob to get back in touch with his son and hopefully eventually return to Australia so that he can spend his twilight years close to family and perhaps find the care he needs. Bob is reluctant to reach out to his estranged son and return to Australia. He cannot contemplate trying to recuperate sundered ties to family and country. 

Murph meets Duyen (Phoebe Phuoc Nguyen), a young doctor who has returned to Vietnam after several years in Australia. Duyen is the linchpin of the plot who will bring the complex narrative strands of this beautiful story about migration, family and ageing together. 

In an interesting revelation, the characters’ exposition of their true motivations illuminates the complexity of what it means to live away from your family. The intersecting migration stories of these two sets of characters compel you to think about what it takes to stay connected with family when you live apart and as you grow older. The play provokes questions about your place in the world when you have moved away from “home”. 

The real star of this production is Lee’s sterling script, which brims with philosophical vigour, humour and compassion. It is a literary work that really homes in on the experience of migration, taking contrasting perspectives to explore how migration can dislocate our affection for and connection to family. 

The variously funny, provocative and fierce sparring matches between the characters are replete with thought-provoking ideas about family, culture, migration and ageing. Several parts of the script sparkle with brilliance, but particular highlights are Bob’s moving reflections on growing older in a foreign land and his glorious declaration of love for Hanoi. 

Menzies and Petruzzi deliver excellent performances. There is a uniquely Australian bonhomie between these two characters with their differing worldviews and individual stubbornness, and the actors convey this very well. Nguyen channels the transcultural astuteness and forcefulness of her character adeptly. As director, Ella Caldwell has gone to the heart of the play and drawn out the conflicts at its core. 

Read: Exhibition review: Melanie Hava: Bugan Mungan, Cairns Art Gallery

The carefully created and richly evocative set design and sound design capture local flavour superbly. All the items on set, from the beer bottles and utensils to the flowerpots, tell a story about the characters’ environment. The designers have carefully captured the essence of the world that these characters inhabit. 


Red Stitch Theatre
Playwright: Dan Lee
Co-creator: Chi Nguyen
Director: Ella Caldwell
Set/costume designer: Jacob Battista
Lighting designer: Jason Ng Junjie
Composition/sound designer: Daniel Nixon
Set designer, associate/scenic painter: Khue Nguyen

Dialect coach: Yuanlei (Nikki) Zhao
Dramaturg: Tom Healey
Stage manager: Finn McLeish
Assistant stage manager: Finleigh Wadsworth

Cast: Joe Petruzzi, Robert Menzies and Phoebe Phuoc Nguyen

Tickets: $20-$69

Flake will be performed until 5 November 2023.

Arjun Rajkhowa lives in Perth and enjoys writing about local arts and culture.