Royal Court Theatre, London – until 15 June 2019
On the one hand, there’s lots to appreciate about White Pearl, a play about Asian women, written and directed by women of Asian descent and starring them too. Its foregrounding of non-native English voices, subject matter so atypical for the UK, its very programming on a major London stage – this is important stuff.
On the other, it’s not a fantastic piece of writing and as significant as its presence here is – something which should not be left unremarked – nothing is gained by not being frank. Anchuli Felicia King’s play straddles the world of satire and comedy but ultimately satisfies as neither and there’s a reliance on some troubling dramatic tropes.
Set in the beauty industry, pan-Asian, Singapore-based cosmetics company Clearday are battling a PR nightmare as they’ve gone viral for all the wrong reasons. Their latest video campaign has been leaked and branded racist – as their team scrabble to save face, faultlines on several frontiers are revealed.
Some are fascinating – notions of colourism, racism from an altogether different perspective, corporate hypocrisy in even the most well-meaning of businesses. But other aspects frustrate – risible plotting, thinly sketched characters, pacing that is too relentless in its desire to show us awful people are and not much besides. Moi Tran’s set looks amazing though.