Benjamin Law's Torch the Place is the first play actor Diana Lin has read that puts her life experience on stage and presents a new personal challenge.
What would you say drives/motivates your character?
My character, Diana (coincidentally also my name), is a first-generation migrant and she feels a lot of the frustration in not knowing the language she is surrounded by. English is the language her children speak, the only language her neighbours speak. She is a very lively, often genuinely cheerful person but there will always be something alienating about the difference in language.
‘My first language is Chinese so it’s a challenge to be doing the show in my second language. That’s why I wanted to do it as well – I wanted my own personal challenge.’
Diana wants people to think she’s strong and outspoken but the kids don’t always understand her. She is distressed, lonely and – without spoiling too much – carries trauma with her that feeds the hoarding. At the end of the day, she really just wants to be understood by the people she loves: her family.
How do you embody your character? Gestures, vocal qualities, facial expressions, style of movement etc?
Diana is a quite neurotic character. I use wringing hands, small nervous ticks and some moments with regular repeated movements. To show her age, I hunch over a little bit but what is more important is that she’s a very youthful character. She is bursting with energy and that is reflected in how energised her voice and gestures are when she speaks.
She loves to talk and she loves to express herself so when she’s excited and happy, she speaks higher and faster. When she’s in an especially good mood, I use a sing-song quality in her speaking voice. Where your heart is, the voice follows.
In the quiet moments there’s more stillness, and her voice and movements are a little more considered, gentle and vulnerable. It’s a very nice contrast to the more frantic moments.
In your opinion, what is Torch the Place about and why is it being told now?
Torch the Place is about grown-up children who have to deal with their hoarder mother. There’s a lot of pressure from different sides so the kids surprise their mum with a surprise clean-up for her birthday. The kids only really get to know more about mum and her mind once they start cleaning. They think their mum is a bit strange but as the play progresses, they begin to realise all the things she’s gone through.
‘With these types of roles, it’s often Australian-born actors putting on migrant accents. It’s rare to have actual migrant actors genuinely just speaking in their own voices, telling their own stories.’
This is the first play I’ve ever read that describes my life experience put on stage. A lot of people, myself included, can relate to this story of a migrant family and the tension of children growing up in Western culture. Australia is multicultural and migrants make the country so strong – not just Asian migrants but many cultures.
What’s the most interesting challenge for you in Torch the Place and why?
My first language is Chinese so it’s a challenge to be doing the show in my second language. That’s why I wanted to do it as well – I wanted my own personal challenge. With these types of roles, it’s often Australian-born actors putting on migrant accents. It’s rare to have actual migrant actors genuinely just speaking in their own voices, telling their own stories.
That makes this play a real landmark achievement. People think it’s easier to always cast actors whose first languages are English and whose accents reflect as much. But there’s something really special about the authenticity of allowing migrant actors tell their own stories. I’m so excited and very grateful for MTC, Dean and Ben, who have given me so much trust and belief.
Torch the Place is on at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.
Published on 26 February 2020