With a promising title, perfect timing and a killer concept, you might expect playwright Renee Liang to be a contender in Plays of the Week. But anyone who feels the national game hasn't been getting enough attention lately will be disappointed to find that The First Asian AB is not really a play about rugby.

This is not to say the oval ball doesn't get thrown around a bit. The show features hilariously mimed on-field action and some revealing forays into the changing rooms - but the game serves as a vehicle for a sensitive and wide-ranging meditation on the immigrant experience.

Focusing on an unusual friendship between a Malaysian boy and a Samoan family, the play gives voice to an Asian perspective on Kiwi culture and presents a nuanced approach to issues of racial identity.

Benjamin Teh captures the sardonic resignation of a Malaysian student who recognises the impossibility of explaining that he does not conform to every Asian stereotype, while Paul Fagamalo brings a lively sense of fun to his portrayal of a hard-case Samoan family.


Both actors take on an impressive range of supporting roles, but with the lightning-quick character changes they sometimes struggle to establish clear vocal distinctions between the multiple characters.

Edward Peni's fast-paced direction emphasises exuberant physical humour, with a Rocky-themed training session and the rough-and-tumble of playground bullying providing comic highlights.

The onstage action is well supported by an inventive array of musical effects performed live by Andrew Correa.

But as the boys mature, the storyline becomes less convincing and there is a lack of dramatic tension as they tackle life decisions.

Nevertheless, the play offers fascinating insights into how our national identity might change.

The Lowdown
The First Asian AB.
Where: The Basement Studio.

When: Until Sunday.