A heavy-handed but charming North Korean love story.
'P’yongyang', a big play about North Korea at the tiny Finborough Theatre, begins with a love story. Chi Soo is the handsome, confident, cool guy from school; Eun Mi is the gawky girl who has been gazing at Chi Soo from afar. It’s clear their love is true, because they do the one thing every single man has refused to do with me: they audition for drama school together.
They hope that winning a place will be the ticket to a new life, but it’s more than that. Art for them is a way of exploring the depths of feeling, and connecting with other human beings. They don’t yet understand that the films they will go on to make won’t promote a message of unity and egalitarianism in their country, but instead sing the praises of totalitarianism and say their Great Leader is the shining dog’s bollocks.
Things don’t go exactly according to plan though – let’s face it, they probably never do in North Korea – when Eun Mi is accepted but Chi Soo is not. Because it turns out that no one had told these kids that class is an issue here, and Chi Soo is at the bottom rung of the social ladder. He remains at home, suffering, starving, watching his parents struggle to survive, whilst Eun Mi is plucked out to star in films. But don’t be deceived – for the duration of this play, no one is having a very nice time.
Despite this, In-Sook Chappell’s play can be very funny at times, and is at its best when using a light touch. Some moments – particularly with a creepy movie producer – feel heavy-handed and melodramatic, descending into minor cliché. But it’s lifted by its young stars, Anna Leong Brophy and Chris Lew Kum Hoi, who attack the material with vivacity and genuinely make us root for this thwarted thespian couple.
BY: TESSIE JOHNSON