The Theatreguide.London Review
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
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.
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