What is beauty? This question is at the heart of Anchuli Felicia King’s modern play White Pearl which is playing at Queensland Theatre. It’s a little gem of a show which will have you laughing whilst cringing and leave you wondering about and evaluating your own thinking and values, as the characters explore this age old question. Anchuli was inspired by the whitening ads that were popping into her feed around 2016. These ads ( variously Thai, Chinese, Korean) had gone viral online, having been deemed racist by the global populace. This play delves into the cosmetic industry, racial politics, beauty standards, start-up culture, capitalism and the English language.
After great reviews in London and Sydney for its original season, King’s play has ventured to our fair city of Brisbane where we gathered on a chilly night to see this corporate take on the mega industry of beauty. Sadly Anchuli Felicia King was restricted from attending Opening Night as she was in Melbourne. Hopefully she will be able to venture up to Queensland soon to enjoy this version directed by Priscilla Jackman.
In the rugged up crowd I spied arts journalist Phil Brown and media commentator Bec Mac, actors Andrea Moor and Bryan Probets and plenty of chirpy bloggers and reviewers. I chatted to Artistic Director, Lee Lewis who is excited and pleased to be mingling with this rare Saturday Opening Night audience.We are all grateful to be invited to the after party in the foyer to mingle with the cast post play once again.
As we enter the Bille Brown Theatre coats are shrugged and phones are silenced, as we peer into the open plan glass door offices of Clearday cosmetics. It’s a modern and sleek office with great lighting features and a banner with timer ticking over showing ever growing likes. This should be good news for Clearday, who are the new kid on the block, with a global and trendy all female team based in Singapore. Today is just another day, until it is not.
When a Clearday video goes viral for all the wrong reasons, a nest of secrets, lies and resentment soon opens up amongst Clearday’s all- women team and it is clear that someone is definitely getting fired today. But who?
There is finger pointing and more than a few tears, tantrums and whispered conversations. I loved the scenes in the bathroom where we know all the juiciest stuff happens in any office environment. But can the team at Clearday rise above their personal squabbles to save the company?
Director Priscilla Jackman says, “White Pearl invites us into a political conversation around power, perspective, cultural currency and consumerism – ultimately asking us to question what unites us in our humanity and what tears us apart. “
The characters of White Pearl reflect a cross – cultural mix of Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, Singaporean, Thai, English and American women, with the play highlighting the complexity of such pan – Asian relations, along with the worst of corporate culture.
A brilliant cast relishes their meaty roles filled with satire, wit and slapstick fun. There is the amazing Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, costumed perfectly in a crisp white suit and blue shirt, severe hair do and sky high heels. She plays the ever so English/ Indian character Priya Singh, the tough no- nonsense member of the team who has her workmates shaking in their boots. Her haughty demeanour and ever increasing shrillness and panic as the play goes on is a delight to watch. Vaishnavi assured me post show that she was nowhere near as mean as the character she plays, whilst admitting Priya’s character was a lot of fun to play. Vaishnavi was one of the original Sydney Theatre Company cast who shines again here in the Sunshine State.
Cheryl Ho had us in stitches as the loveable Sunny Lee. Everyone wants a best friend like Sunny. Her comedic timing was perfect and her loyalty and warmth shone through her cool girl exterior. Lin Yin was the meek and eager to please Soo- Jin Park, whose personal and family problems as a Chinese national had her hiding in the toilet and reduced to tears for much of the play.
Don’t underestimate the characters of Ruki ( Mayu Iwasaki) or industrial chemist Soo Jin, for their roles filled with smarts and cunning prove pivotal to the stories, especially as we see them fully and clearly towards the end of the play. Their friendship blossoming is a joy to watch.
A toxic relationship between the only male in the cast Matthew Pearce , as lovesick Frenchman, Marcel Benoit and the beautiful American educated Built Suttikul ( Nicole Milinkovic) proves to be funny, sad and disturbing, with both characters shining stage presences.
This one act play is fast paced and hilarious satire at its best. You will laugh out loud. You will cringe.You will sympathise and come out thinking about the story long after the final applause dies away. Warning for the sensitive: There is plenty of swearing, a simulated sex scene and smoke effects, as well as racially sensitive aspects. This play is definitely for an adult audience.
White Pearl is a fierce and brave piece of work that reflects on our global society with all its reliance on social media, perceived cultural differences and corporate culture coming to the fore. She Society enjoyed the conversation and ideas portrayed and the holding up of a mirror to the culture of beauty and life in an all- female workplace. For a challenging , thoughtful and funny play, to get you off the couch on a cold night, head to the iconic Bille Brown Theatre. White Pearl will be playing until July 10.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).