Although not well known in this country, Mia Chung is an American playwright with considerable experience not only in stagecraft, but in script writing as well. This production of her surreal and satirical play, first put on in Washington DC in 2012, is its British premiere.
When North Korean sisters Minhee and Junhee, who are starving during one of the regime’s periodic famines, decide to make a bid for freedom, they become separated at the border and the rest of the play takes the form of two parallel quest stories. Minhee searches for her lost son and lost husband, while Junhee tries to find a new life in the United States.
Chung’s play is a dreamlike fantasia which features scenes where trees grow ears, huge teddy bears appear and rice makes music. There’s a Busby Berkeley dance of rice grains and a field of Kimjongilia flowers in need of harvesting. Junhee meets Liz, an American monster who at first speaks in gibberish to illustrate the Korean’s difficulty in understanding a different society, then she hooks up with Wade, a black guy from the South.
Social systems of both East and West are criticised, but the fantasy aspects of the story, involving time travel and great leaps of the imagination, tend to distract from identification with the emotions of the characters. Still, Richard Twyman’s colourful production, with a mirror set by Jon Bausor and video projections by Tal Rosner, is delightful on the eye.
Katie Leung (Junhee) and Wendy Kweh (Minhee) convincingly show the supportive siblings while Daisy Haggard and Paapa Essiedu breath life into Liz and Wade. In support, Kwong Loke and Andrew Leung play a dozen characters. But the show will chiefly be remembered for its visual effects rather than its emotional depth.