You for Me for You

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Agreeably nutsoid new play about a pair of North Korean sisters

US playwright Mia Chung’s ‘You for Me for You’ follows two North Korean sisters who fall foul of the totalitarian state and make a break for the border – but only one of them makes it. Junhee (Katie Leung) escapes and makes a beeline for New York, which first baffles then assimilates her. Minhee (Wendy Kweh) falls down a well and becomes trapped in a bizarre, afterlife-like North.

I’m about 98% certain that Chung’s play is an allegory for the peoples of North and South Korea, bound together by blood and geography  but eternally separated by politics, one nation rampantly Americanised, one sealed in an increasingly distant past.

But to earnestly over-interpret ‘You for Me for You’ would be to somewhat understate how utterly outlandish Richard Twyman’s production is. Both Junhee’s America and Minhee’s Korea are lurid, gaudy fantasy kingdoms full of strange events and even stranger characters (one is a man dressed as a bear, for reasons I didn't really understand and possibly wasn’t supposed to).

‘You for Me for You’ is thrillingly strange and endearingly mad, like watching two different adaptations of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ at the exact same time (with perhaps a dab of Murakami – I was reminded of his ‘Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, which also features a long, strange passage set down a well). Jon Bausor’s mirrored set and Tal Rosner’s retina-searing projections are wonderful, Leung and Kweh give it a tremendous amount of gumption, and Daisy Haggard deserves a special mention for playing all the Americans characters, initially speaking in deft, hilarious screeds of nonsense syllables.

Still, the sisters’ story is so relentlessly bizarre that I found it increasingly difficult to get emotionally involved. And by the same token, its insights into Korea felt fairly limited, obfuscated by so much kookiness, with a slight ending that seems to tie up the story better than the allegory. Maybe not a great play, but certainly an arresting one – I enjoyed spending time down its rabbit hole.

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