Theatre review: I is Maggie

A clear-eyed insight into the conditions of migrant labour in an industrial laundry.

In modern Australia, migrants do the jobs that most locals would sneer at, and they do it with a smile.

But society never asks them… what’s your story? I is Maggie unashamedly gives the answers to questions we’ve never voiced out loud. 

The scene is set when the audience is confronted by an industrial plastic curtain, and all are tempted to take a peep. The tension of what lies behind it increases until finally the curtain is pulled back, revealing a cornucopia of the senses beyond.

The cast comprises a range of actors with differing levels of experience in theatre. However, this does not prevent them combining to form an outstanding ensemble performance. 

Tivy Siripanich, in the lead role of Maggie, is a pocket-rocket who speaks her mind with ferocity. She is naïve, perhaps to a fault, to the unfair scruples of western business. This is juxtaposed with an inherent tenderness, which she shines upon the people around her. Susan Prince is Ruth, the no nonsense, anti-unionist laundry supervisor. Her performance gives the audience a glimpse of a layered character with a story all of her own.

The writers, Saengthien Klamkaew and Dennis McIntosh, expertly steer the story arc back to focus on the plight of laundry workers who work for luxury hotels.

Andy Warren shows off his versatility playing an assortment of parts; from a trio of European backpackers who each have their own idiosyncrasies, to a sleazy ocker truck driver and a quiet, yet sage, young fisherman. Bodelle de Ronde as Noong, an older Thai lady, is a complex character who keeps Maggie grounded to the ways of the world, exploiting the protagonist’s innocence to breaking point. De Ronde also plays an oppressive masculine figure who tears down women’s aspirations. 

The Community Chorus consists of Tip Nantana, Goy Watson, Joy Nomani and April Thomas. Their voices add another element to the authenticity of the world created, filling out the hustle and bustle of a busy laundry setting. Designed by Simone Tesorieri, the set does indeed resemble an industrial laundry with a dynamic two-dimensional display with moving parts. The laundry’s walls serve a dual purpose in portraying co-writer Klamkaew’s nod to traditional Thai Shadow puppetry. 

The work’s costume design fits perfectly with each character’s personality: from Maggie in a vibrant yellow blouse to show her bubbly spirit, to Ruth in a blue overcoat closed-off to the world. The truck driver’s dark blue tradie uniform with its hi-vis reflective stripes resembles a fearsome deep-sea predator. 

Lighting designer Sam Gibb employs several lightscapes throughout to further augment the story. From sun beating down at the seaside by day, to a dark foreboding carpark at night, and from the stark bright industrial white lights of the laundry, to the clever use of silhouette combined with passionate coloured hues, Gibb changes gears to achieve the dream-like flashback state.  

Will Hughes, the production’s composer and sound designer, weaves together a tapestry of sounds that further reinforce the audience’s belief of being inside a laundry. Hughes cleverly drops off the ambient soundscape when Maggie sings in Thai, inserting poignant little sunrays to fight the grim surrounds.

Read: Theatre review: The Briefing, Melissa McGlensey

All these artists are held together by director Pranchalee Khajai, who put her belief and trust in all of the creative team to dream big in their individual roles, and the talented production team and cast delivered in spades. 

I is Maggie by Dennis McIntosh and Saengthien Klamkaew
A JUTE Theatre production at Bulmba-Ja Arts Centre, Queensland
Director: Pranchalee Khajai
Production Manager: Sam Gibb
Set Designer: Simone Tesorieri
Costume Designer: Simona Cosentini
Lighting Designer: Sam Gibb,
Composer & Sound Design: Will Hughes 
Stage Manager: Eve Lynch
Chorus Assistant: Marilyn Marsh Booth

Dramaturg: Kathryn Ash
Cast: Tivy Siripanich, Susan Prince, Bodelle de Ronde, Andy RJ Warren, Tip Nantana, Goy Watson, Joy Nomani, April Thomas

I is Maggie will be performed until 22 October 2022.



Douglas Robins is an Arts worker in far north Queensland, is fanatical about theatre and believes theatre should always be inclusive to all. He completed a B.A. in Theatre and English at James Cook University, Cairns in 2011. An author of short plays and theatre reviews, an actor, director and president of community theatre company Tropical Arts Inc.