untitled f**k m**s s**gon play, Young Vic, 2023
Photo: Richard DavenportMei Mac
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play

4 out of 5 stars

Fiery, audacious satire on the stereotyping of Asian women in Western art and theatre


Time Out says

Oh, ‘Miss Saigon’. The heat was on from the moment the mega-musical premiered on Broadway in 1991, met by protests against its yellowface casting and its orientalist depiction of Vietnamese women as either naive, virginal waifs or as prostitutes. Or both, in the case of the main character Kim.

So here we are three decades later, and American writer Kimber Lee’s play - which premiered at the Manchester International Festival earlier this year - starts with a naive, virginal waif called Kim… except, just as the play claims to be untitled but actually has one of the more memorable titles of recent years, so those spiralling ironies extend into the narrative itself, as we see Lee savagely skewer and then despair at the tired, repetitive colonial depictions of Asians in dramas. Nor does she settle for ‘Saigon’. The whole sorry history of white guys writing Asian stories, from ‘Madama Butterfly’ to ‘South Pacific’ to ‘The World of Suzie Wong’, gets the fuck you treatment.

Roy Alexander Weise’s dizzying production has us going in circles. Rochelle Rose’s calm, authoritative narrator – audio describer cum nature documentary voiceover – stands outside the raised round stage, mic and script in hand, summoning a familiar scene into life: a virginal girl called Kim, a hut, a chiselled blonde American who talks in a fake Asian language - ‘kimono sushi ohio’ - and gets her pregnant, making Kim kill herself. It’s a deliberate display of every Asian stereotype perpetrated by Western film and theatre: hut, bamboo, shamisen music.

Then it happens again, different time and place (South Pacific island, 1949), except Rose’s script barely changes. A girl called Kim, chiselled American, suicide. Then it happens again - Korea, 1950, Kim, hunk, suicide - Rose circling the stage, round and round, the same story playing out.

Then it all collapses into the modern day, with a comfortably middle-class dinner scene in which Kim seems to be the only one aware that she’s trapped in endless iterations of the same story. She’s in America now. She’s free, right? Except, how is Kim supposed to live in a society that’s been sustained entirely on these stories?

It’s a tough ask for the performers, who have to deliberately play stereotypes, but the smart decision here is to do it sincerely. No winking to the audience, just committed, straight acting which makes the takedown all the more damning. Mei Mac’s Kim is an extraordinary unfurling: from meek and submissive in the first cycles to a confused, angry, defiant person trying to break herself out of the world she’s trapped in.

Weise stages it beautifully, with stagehands reorienting the same bits of set for each scene, and some dazzlingly maximal lighting from Joshua Pharo which shoves artifice and reality up against each other, sucking us into the world of each scene before using house lights, coloured spotlights, glitter balls, bright strobes to keep throwing us out of the action.

Lee doesn’t do subtlety here (cf the play’s title) and sometimes it’s an easier play to appreciate than enjoy, particularly in the oblique final scenes full of dazed, raging monologuing. Doesn’t matter though. It’s as if ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ were a play, the way it becomes self-aware, kaleidoscopic, genre-hopping while searching for an Asian-American existence that’s authentic, rather than shaped by centuries of colonial writing.


£12-£35. Runs 1hr 50min
You may also like
You may also like
London for less