Two young people meet by chance in Hong Kong in 2019. They bond and banter over music not realising that the city is soon to erupt in huge protests, with a brutal state clampdown. Changing genres and gears throughout, A Playlist for the Revolution presents a tender romance and explores finding your place in the world, as well as what you are willing to fight for.
A meet-cute at a wedding between Jonathan (Liam Lau-Fernandez) and Chloe (Mei Mei Macleod) zings along. It’s a random chance that leads to a connection and one night talking together. On a trip to her unfamiliar birthland, Chloe returns to her home in England the next day. Apart, they text, they share songs and dance to each other’s suggestions. Their connection stays. AJ Yi’s script sparkles, combining with the chemistry between Lau-Fernandez and Macleod so we are at once invested in their relationship. There is an immediate connection between the two characters and also between them and the audience. Emily Ling Williams’ direction, especially of their back and forth on music and dancing, brings the best out of everyone. This is done with a lot of sweetness and a lot of laughs.
As the protests start to grip Hong Kong, Chloe assumes that Jonathan is out protesting and not wishing to let her down he plays along. In reality, he is ‘blue’ (neutral) and goes about his normal life, wary of the impact anything he might do would have on his father and perhaps even himself. Mr Chu (Zak Shukor), a janitor at his school, becomes confidante and mentor to Jonathan. Shukor does excellent work, showing Chu as very much a seasoned pro-democracy protester (so ‘yellow’) and then bringing Jonathan into the protest movement. While the play explains some of the complicated history of Hong Kong and references people and events, it does rely on the audience having some knowledge of the 2019 protests.
The second half focuses more on the relationship between Mr Chu and Jonathan, the younger man’s seeking his place in the world, and what he will fight or protest for. His relationship with Chloe fades into the background, with her understanding of life in Hong Kong being a naive view from media coverage. Safe on the other side of the world, she’s talking with Jonathan about music without the slightest clue that he is making Molotov cocktails at the time. Even alongside such serious political topics, the comedy is kept high, mining the age and cultural differences between Chu and Jonathan. At times the humour does threaten to undermine the seriousness of the piece, and in moments when the audience reaction is strong the addition of small pauses might be helpful, as some lines are missed due to ongoing laughter.
The set by Liam Bunster keeps Jonathan and Chu on a platform within Hong Kong, boxes showing city buildings sunk around a platform. Once Chloe has returned to England, she never steps foot on the stage again but sits and moves around the edge as an outsider. The city buildings nicely double as storage. In a spectacularly smart moment, when Jonathan sends some real Hong Kong snacks to England, it is dispatched in a box that a moment ago was a building; a small piece of Hong Kong, Chloe’s birthplace. Along the way video projections by Gillian Tan float over the stage and onto the back wall.
A Playlist for the Revolution tackles a large number of themes without ever feeling broad or sprawling. The fantastic cast easily draws us into the lives and dreams of these Hong Kongers. Ending with real footage from the protests reminds us that while the characters may be inventions, the events shown actually happened and changed the face of Hong Kong forever.
Written by: AJ Yi
Directed by: Emily Ling Williams
Lighting and Video Design by: Gillian Tan
Sound Design by: Jamie Ye
Design by: Liam Bunster
Produced by: The Bush Theatre
A Playlist for the Revolution plays at Bush Theatre until 5 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.