Lennox Theatre, October 26
You know that feeling when you’re standing on a cliff, and are drawn inexorably a little closer to the edge, and then a little more, and then… This play is like that. It’s all edge, no safety-net. Daring and a touch dangerous, its sense of breakneck velocity and unpredictability are fully realised in this vigorous Australian premiere.
Written by Australian Anchuli Felicia King, it received its world premiere at London’s Royal Court, and here is directed by Priscilla Jackman in a joint National Theatre of Parramatta/Sydney Theatre Company production. It tells of six young women working for Clearday, a Singaporean cosmetics company that’s developed “White Pearl”, a skin-whitening product. If that isn’t dodgy enough, the ad for it – against Clearday’s intentions – lampoons black people. Illicitly released on line, this immediately goes viral. Oops.
King uses her rattling story to execute intellectual somersaults about anyting from the nature of racism to corporate culture, animal cruelty and why women use cosmetics. It’s funny (the whitening cream’s legality is “a bit of a grey area”), insightful and packed with extraordinary erudition about the slang of diverse Asian cultures.
Jackson directs it with scrupulous attention to detail and with panache in her casting and her dynamic choreography of bodies about Jeremy Allen’s too-close-for comfort realist set. Allen further aids the cause with acutely-observed costuming delineating each character.
The actors do the rest. Just as her character, Priya, runs Clearday, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash sets the tone with a performance that flirts with satirical exaggeration without going there, and is viscerally and amusingly physical as well as being vocally incisive. Catherine Van-Davies relishes the juicy role of Built, a Thai who lives hard, arrives at work late, and might well snap her suave but slimy ex in two. He, Marcel, is played by Matthew Pearce with pitch-perfect accent and manner.
Merlynn Tong is the super-hip Sunny, Mayu Iwasaki the shrewd Ruki (whose moral compass has not been demagnetised by corporate greed), and Deborah An is Soo Jin, the cosmetic chemist with a keen eye on self-preservation. Shirong Wu plays Xiao, who, because her father is in trouble in China, cries a lot (to Priya’s ire). Wu’s performance has many delightful nuances, but her tears must be more convincing, or a crucial element of King’s multifaceted slice of life goes missing: sadness.
Until November 9.