Half-Thai, half-Australian playwright Anchuli Felicia King grew up in Thailand, the Philippines and Australia, then moved to New York to study, where she discovered a knack for writing plays. She’s caused an international storm with her savage comedy ‘White Pearl’, which follows an all-female, all-Asian Singaporean skin-whitening start-up that descends into chaos when its racist advert goes viral in the West. Productions in Australia and the US are on tehir way, but it premieres at the Royal Court.
Your first play is having its world premiere in the Royal Court’s main house! That’s good going!
‘It’s fucking crazy. I think it’s testament to the Royal Court that they’re willing to take a risk on an essentially unknown 25-year-old playwright. And it’s not like it’s a safe play to programme.’
‘White Pearl’ is inspired by a couple of real skin-whitening videos that went viral…
‘There were two that must have come up on my Facebook feed in 2016 and I was really fascinated. I grew up with those sorts of ads, and suddenly there was this huge international outcry. And I thought: Oh, this is really interesting to me. Because suddenly you have to be accountable to a global discourse.’
The humour is brutal and your characters are pretty racist – was that tough to write? Or easy?
‘It’s been an ongoing question: how do you stage racism without perpetuating it? I have a very strong sense that nothing is worth doing just for the shock value. But I want to always be pushing at the boundaries.’
Why make each of the women from a different Asian country?
‘I really wanted to poke holes in the idea of “Asianness” as a monolith, and actually look at how fractious and complicated that cultural grouping is. These are six Asian woman but they’re from very different places, they have very different ways of speaking, they have very different value systems.’
The characters aren’t exactly sympathetic, are they?
‘I find that really empowering – I have never to my knowledge seen dislikeable Asian female characters: Asian female characters who are problematic, have jagged edges, who are like monsters of capitalism. I really relish seeing six amazing female actors getting to play these crazy fucked-up women because I have never seen it. Asian women deserve to get to play something other than caring, inherently likeable, passive characters.’
If you set aside the race angle, ‘White Pearl’ feels like a satire on the amorality of start-up culture.
‘Yeah. I’m hugely interested in millennial corporate culture and the sort of ad-hoc utopianism of it, the lies that millennial corporations tell themselves about their ethics. Start-up culture is an inherently weird sub-culture and the people in it are so fucking weird, and I find that really dramatic.’
‘White Pearl’ is at the Royal Court Theatre. Until Jun 15.