By Eric Scott
By Anchuli Felicia King
Directed by Priscilla Jackman
Bille Brown Theatre
Season: June 17-July 10. Duration: 90 minutes. No interval. Bookings: : 1800 355 528. firstname.lastname@example.org
In a noisy and often bewildering 90 minutes White Pearl mixes six diverse Asian women and a token Caucasian male in a plot that moves at breakneck speed and covers everything from racism, animal cruelty, business ethics, corporate greed and personal tensions. In fact there were so many facets my ancient brain had to work hard to keep up.
Not that it worried the younger element of the audience: the laughs kept coming as the jokes took hold and the crazy sextet unleashed their diverse characters.
The plotline sees the women at work in the offices of Clearday, a Singaporean start-up cosmetics company which is selling White Pearl, a skin-whitening product (different blends for each Asian country to match safety standards). Then a TV commercial that sends up black people is leaked on social media without the boss having seen it and damaging hits race into the millions.
Priya, played with power by Vaishnavi Suryaprakash is the Indian-British boss of Clearday, and Cheryl Ho is the very cool Sunny, her Singaporean assistant. She had excellent comic timing and many of the laugh lines.
Nicole Milincovic plays the feisty Built, a rich Thai-American who is always late for work, and, tough as old boots, gives her ex-lover hell and some sexual comfort. That’s Frenchman Marcel, played by Matthew Pearce who turned up with a bit of attempted blackmail.
I did find this add-in to the plot a bit disconcerting. It just didn’t seem to fit in the scheme of things and slowed down the frantic action.
Mayu Iwasaki played the Japanese office manager Ruki, and Deborah An was Soo Jin, the South Korean chemist, who knows all the secrets and legalities of her skin whitening research and development. Lin Yin played Xiao, a young Chinese woman terrified of losing her job and being sent back to mainland China, where her father is in political trouble. She tended to cry a lot and spend much of her time on the toilet floor.
Xiao confesses her role in backing the ad and is puzzled and unhappy because neither she nor Soo understood the racist implications of the ad’s use of blackface.
It’s then a fight for survival for everyone as “somebody has to be fired”.
The cast worked brilliantly as an ensemble and Jeremy Allen’s ultra-modern, mirrored set under some harsh lighting from Damien Cooper matched well the modernistic theme of the show. Impressive too were the screen projections that flashed social media comments and the increasing video hits.
It is a very contemporary show indeed.
When the Brisbane season ends the play will move on to Sydney Theatre Company