A Playlist for the Revolution, Bush Theatre, 2023
Photo: Craig Fuller
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


A Playlist for the Revolution

3 out of 5 stars

A sweet international love story morphs into a hard-hitting drama about the Hong Kong protests


Time Out says

At first, it’s a young love story. Jonathan and Chloe meet at a family wedding in Hong Kong where they tease each other, flirt and dance. Chloe is Chinese but has grown up in Britain and has big dreams of becoming the next Obama. This is her first holiday alone, to explore her roots. Jonathan has spent his whole life in Hong Kong, never straying far from his father’s wishes. They’re from different worlds, have different outlooks and different understandings of their identities – but it’s a new romance, alright.

After a failed night of passion, the lovers are torn apart. Chloe goes back to start her first year at Durham University while Jonathan is studying in Hong Kong as the largest demonstrations in its history start to roll into force. Their relationship takes shape over messages, phone calls and parcels of snacks sent from afar. With teenage nerves and social expectation at play, they delete, wait to send and then splurge their feelings out into typed form. As the pair, Mei Mei Macleod and Liam Lau-Fernandez channel all the eagerness of new connection into their performances; they have a natural chemistry and their excited spark crackles. But, though this formative long-distance relationship is tantalising to watch, it is just the beginning of AJ Yi’s hugely ambitious drama.

As the protests grow in Hong Kong, Chloe wishes she was closer to the heart of the movement. So, from England she decides to do the one thing she knows could help – ‘we’re going to change the world with a playlist’, she tells Jonathan. Soon, they’re exchanging rallying protest songs ranging from Beyoncé to the Sex Pistols. But, when Jonathan reveals he is actually avoiding going to the protests in Hong Kong for fear of upsetting his father, their relationship starts to turn sour.

Directed by Emily Ling Williams, the play starts with a cotton-candy sweet tone, and then drifts into much darker territory. After Jonathan is wooed by his university janitor (played stoically and hilariously by Zak Shukor) to join the revolt, the stage becomes messed with flyers and handmade weapons. The safe, comfortable Hong Kong that Jonathan once shielded himself within has been shattered.

Though some of the scenes go round in circles, Ling’s play deals with mighty themes. As Chloe idealises Hong Kong and longs to feel more connected to her heritage, she overlooks the true danger the city faces. The power of protest, too, is questioned throughout – the play asks, potently, can it really ever make a difference? 

Williams makes the final image of the play a stark one. Real footage from the Hong Kong demonstrations is projected onto the theatre’s back wall. It is a reminder that though this is drama, this is a striking story birthed from Hong Kong’s reality. 


£25, £15 concs. Runs 2hr 20min
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