Tag Archives: The North Wall

The Apology

The Apology

★★★★

Arcola Theatre

THE APOLOGY at the Arcola Theatre

★★★★

The Apology

“an interesting perspective on an otherwise seemingly black and white story”

 

The Apology, directed by Ria Parry, follows the lives of three women, each involved in the attempt to uncover the truth about ‘comfort girls’ during World War Two. An estimated 200,000 girls were taken, by deception or force, from their villages in Japanese-occupied countries, and imprisoned as sex slaves throughout the war, sanctioned by the Japanese government. This isn’t a part of history I’m especially familiar with, so the story itself was fascinating and horrifying.

The pace is a bit sloppy, and I’d say it could do with a twenty-minute haircut, but given it’s based on very true events I can see how it would feel harsh not to give all the characters enough time to flesh out their stories.

As well as the historical narratives, both during the war and in the nineties when the UN began its investigations, writer Kyo Choi also includes a personal narrative about a man (Kwong Loke) who was, to his understanding, forced to recruit ‘comfort girls’, and how he continued to live with himself after the war. It’s an interesting perspective on an otherwise seemingly black and white story: this man was neither evil nor good, and it’s an important reminder that history is rarely so clean-cut.

Performances are strong across the board, and Choi has done well to include a little levity in a fairly bleak story, giving a generous emotional range to all the characters. Priyanka Silva, the UN lawyer, played by Sharan Phull, is cringingly earnest at times, but that rings fairly true for her character, and even she cracks a joke once in a while.

The only real issue I had with the performances- and I’m ready to be told I’m wrong about this- is the accents: the three modern-day Korean characters all speak with Korean accents, whereas the young girl playing the younger self of a former ‘comfort girl’, speaks in received pronunciation. It’s fine to cast accent-blind, but given that that’s not the case for any other characters, I find it quite jarring and distracting.

TK Hay’s set design is simple and elegant: Floor and walls are covered in orderly paperwork, seemingly signifying the beaurocracy and white tape involved in any official decisions or changes. But it also evokes a paper trail: evidence, waiting to be found.

Ultimately, it’s a compelling and important story, and although a little baggy, the content of The Apology carries it through when the execution itself feels a little too sentimental, or a little drawn out.

 

Reviewed on 27th September 2022

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Ikin Yum

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | July 2021
The Narcissist | ★★★ | July 2021
Rainer | ★★★★★ | October 2021
L’Incoronazione Di Poppea | ★★★★ | July 2022

 

 

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Brown Boys Swim

Brown Boys Swim

★★★★

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

BROWN BOYS SWIM at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

★★★★

 

Brown Boys Swim

 

“The real strength of Khan’s script is in the dialogue: natural, light and really playful”

 

Anish Roy and Varun Raj play two best friends, Mohsen and Kash, in a new play by Karim Khan about friendship, adolescence and religious identity. Mohsen and Kash are Muslim. Unlike their peers, they choose not to drink alcohol, don’t get invited to all the parties and, critically, can’t swim. After Kash manages to bag an invite to a pool party in one months’ time, they begin making regular visits to the local swimming pool to try and change this. But on their way to learning backstroke and front crawl, they begin to question other choices they make, and their friendship is put to the test with tragic consequences.

The real strength of Khan’s script is in the dialogue: natural, light and really playful. Rather than each scene revolving around big dramatic plot points, we get an insight into the dynamic between the characters, who pray together, spend time with each other’s families, and know each and every part of the other person. We also find out quite early on about an accident where a young man named Amir drowned some time earlier. The water is dangerous for two boys who never learnt to swim. Urdu phrases and other snippets of the boys’ culture are embedded in their conversations, and the scenes are performed with generosity and spontaneity by Roy and Raj. Kash is cheeky and flirty. Mohsen is more focused and averse to risk.

James Bailey’s lighting design takes us softly through a multi-coloured palette of blues and greens and purples. Combined with Roshan Gunga’s sound design and composition, with strings and splashes of water, the scene transitions give the feel of a gentle swim stroke, taking us carefully through the water to the next part of the story. James Button creates a blue-tiled wall, about waist-height, which is cleverly and subtly moved into different angles and positions, along with a couple of simple wooden benches to create the different scenes; it’s especially effective when the characters are behind it, the top of the wall acting as the pool edge, with Roy and Raj holding on for dear life, trying to find the courage to bop their heads below the water on the other side.

The script does build a little slowly, with a very abrupt plot-twist at the end which feels too fast to get the emotional impact I think this moment needs. We hear throughout the boys dealing with judgement, micro-aggressions and racism; shop security who assume they’re thieves; the revelation that the party invite was only because it was assumed they’d be bringing drugs; and the way the boys are stared at by people in the swimming pool. The ending attempts at showing the possible consequences of this structural, everyday prejudice, but it feels like a slightly shoehorned conclusion which jars with the tempo and energy of everything up to that point.

Questions around manhood, masculinity, and what makes a ‘good Muslim’, as well as the emotional dependency these two boys have on each other, is where the writing really thrives. Brown Boys Swim is an engaging drama, with compelling performances and a brilliant design and staging, with sharp direction from John Hoggarth.

 

 

Reviewed 14th August 2022

by Joseph Winer

Photography by  Geraint Lewis

 

 

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