BWW Review: WHITE PEARL, Royal Court Theatre
Clearday has gone from a small Singaporean start-up to an international cosmetic brand. When resentment and revenge come into play, an old draft of an advert promoting their cutting-edge skin whitening product is posted online resulting into a media disaster.
Vicky Featherstone's mission to stage more diverse work at The Royal Court Theatre led her to debut Anchuli Felicia King's White Perl. Directed by Nana Dakin and featuring a mainly Asian creative team and cast, it's safe to say that a production of such kind is a rarity in London.
A satire that too quickly turns into a vicious circle of stereotypes, the piece is barely kept afloat by an underwhelming type of humour that has a penchant for cheap, comedy that steers towards the American variety.
At times, it presents a twisted idea of what "funny" is, using revengeporn, emotional abuse, and caricatural portrayals as a mean to deliver a social critique. It all comes together at the very end with its last line but somehow this doesn't feel adequate enough to rationalise the dumb jokes that have previously turned the characters into laughingstock. It may be that the message behind it is exactly this, but it doesn't land as securely as it would have to in order to leave a lasting mark.
While every PR person's nightmare becomes true, King's story brings to the surface the notion that perhaps racism and political correctness are something that concerns and upsets only the Western hemisphere. The ruthlessness and callousness of the beauty industry is used to highlight the comedy within the tragedy, painting an array of women who look like they're out of a glitzy soap opera in gorgeously swanky clothes.
Framed by Moi Tran's sleek and ultra-modern set design that features bright pastels and moving screens lit up by Natasha Chivers, the company give a tremendous esemble performance. Each actor has crafted a detailed and personal character; their specific idiosyncrasies set them apart from the others while they create a varied panorama that highlights the differences of the countries portrayed.
From Kae Alexander's trendy Built who struts her wealth and tucks away her insecurities to Farzana Dua Elahe's depiction of the driven and ferocious British-educated Priya, the cast is the real strong point of the premiere.
The plot of White Pearl seem to come second place to the dynamics staged by the show. King introduces the internalised racism in the Asian community as the foremost thematic line, surrounding it with great cultural awareness that Dakin fully embraces even when the text fails to shine.
All in all, the play is unprecedented in its delivery but displays too many flaws: from unexplored subplots to unsubtle nature of the script, it doesn't come together as the satisfactory and groundbreaking piece of theatre it had the potential to be.