As the audience for White Pearl take their seats in the downstairs theatre at the Royal Court, a giant screen in front of the stage shows a set of figures climbing inexorably upwards: 19,465… 19,466… 19,467…
It soon becomes clear this is the number of YouTube hits being racked up by a leaked video that’s causing a PR nightmare for a cosmetics company in Singapore.
The problem? Their advert – for a skin whitening cream – is racist and social media is going into meltdown.
Anchuli Felicia King’s super-smart black comedy packs into 85 expletive-laden minutes a thought-provoking examination of intercultural racism in Asia, corporate powerplay and a beauty industry that preys on women who “hate themselves”.
If there was ever a play machine-tooled for millennials, this is it. The hi tech set – with video design inspired by a mobile phone – fizzes with energy, YouTube comments punctuate each scene, and there are lines that leave you unsure whether to laugh or launch an indignant hashtag.
As King admits in her author’s note, casting this play is “really fucking hard”. The ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the six Asian female characters – all of them employees of cosmetics company Clearday – are integral to the dynamics of the plot.
Farzana Dua Elahe is fantastic as Clearday’s founder Priya Singh who prowls the stage looking for a scapegoat among her team. The cast is excellent overall, with Katie Leung as Sunny Lee and Minhee Yeo as South Korean Soo-Jin Park being particularly memorable.
Kae Alexander as the wise-cracking Built shares some great scenes with the play’s only male character, French “social justice warrior” Marcel (Arty Froushan).
In a world where the issue of race is rarely off the trending charts, here’s a play that deserves to go viral for all the right reasons.
White Pearl is at the Royal Court until 15 June