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 The Theatreguide.London Review

White Pearl
Royal Court Theatre  Spring 2019

White Pearl is a light comedy with pretensions to social satire that it doesn't quite live up to. You'll get a few laughs, but the targets of its gentle barbs will walk away undamaged.

A pan-Asian cosmetics company run entirely by women faces a crisis. A proposed TV commercial that is offensively racist nice girl uses their skin cream, turns white and gets the guy, while nasty girl turns black, spouts an afro and explodes has been leaked and gone viral.

Everyone goes into damage-control panic, leading to a festival of blame-shifting, scapegoating and tail-covering, compounded by individual animosities and jealousies, mutual racism among the Chinese, Japanese, Singaporeans and others, and just plain bitchiness.

Oh, and there's the obsessively stalking ex-boyfriend of one, happy to stoop to blackmail to win her back.

The offending ad is, of course, just a McGuffin, the excuse for everything else that goes on, and the free-swinging satire touches lightly on everything from the internet to North Korean repression, but all just to raise laugh and not with any real outrage or reformer zeal.

The women are specifically identified in the play as coming from and representing the characteristics of different Asian cultures, though you will probably have trouble keeping in mind which is from where.

Thanks to Costume Supervisor Lucy Walshaw's design you are more likely to spot them as the one with the stylish Western look, the one in the teenybopper microskirt, the one in K-pop punk and so on.

In notes to the published text playwright Anchuli Felicia King specifies which accent and how much mastery of English each character is to have, but the effect for all but the linguists among us is just likely to be that bits and pieces of dialogue will be unintelligible.

Under Nana Dakin's direction the actors never really deal with this problem, nor do they effectively establish characters or differentiate among them to much more than implicitly racist stereotypes.

White Pearl is funny. It is fun to laugh at the various powder-puff-hard satires and, even though one character at one point complains 'There's been like too many twists and reveals today,' to be carried along by the sometimes surprising plots and counterplots among the women.

Just don't expect more.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  White Pearl  - Royal Court Theatre 2019

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