Pros: A phenomenal cast led by Katie Leung and Wendy Kweh bring a gripping humanity to this fast-paced production.
Cons: No cons; this is new playwriting at its best. The seats in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs are not that comfy, maybe?
American dramatist Mia Chung’s new play You For Me For You offers a rich exploration of the very different cultures in North Korea and the United States, and Richard Twyman’s production currently running at the Royal Court Theatre matches the surrealism of the script with brilliantly bizarre visuals. It makes for a thoughtful, entertaining and moving evening, forcing the audience to rethink deep-set preconceptions about cultures that we believe to understand.
The play kicks off with a tender encounter between two starving North Korean sisters, Junhee and Minhee. Both of them are trying to convince the other to eat first from the miserably small pot of rice stew they have prepared, each happy to sacrifice herself for the other. When faced with a corrupt doctor time and time again, Junhee momentarily breaks out of the stifled, polite norm of North Korean culture, and decides to flee the country with her seriously ill sister. The two are separated at the border and Junhee must become an American in order to return in safety to North Korea to find her sister. Junhee becomes submerged in an American lifestyle of baseball, consumerism, endless choice and, as a foreigner, exploitative working conditions. Minhee, meanwhile, is required to face up to her own beliefs and her loyalty to an oppressive regime, and discover the truth about her husband and her lost son.
The play teeters on the brink of cliché. On the one hand it explores corruption, violence, bureaucracy and surveillance in North Korea; on the other, there’s the cost of freedom, choice, and individualism in the United States. But even while Chung juxtaposes the fast-paced life of an American with long periods of waiting of a North Korean, she never crosses that perilous border of oversimplification.
While the script offers rich insights and thoughtful explorations of these themes, the real stars of the show are the cast and the set. Katie Leung as Junhee and Wendy Kweh as Minhee are outstanding, and Daisy Haggard as a host of invariably obnoxious but hilarious Americans speaks delightful English-sounding gobbledegook at breakneck speed until Junhee’s English starts to improve. The set is comprised of slanting mirrors encapsulating the stage. The claustrophobic space in which the action takes place is enhanced by lots of trippy projections; in one hallucinatory scene, rice takes centre-stage in a sort of ballet. You For Me For You is completely bonkers and brilliant, and not one to miss.
Author: Mia Chung
Director: Richard Twyman
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking Link: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/you-for-me-for-you/?tab=0
Booking Until: 9 January 2016