White Pearl @ OzAsia Festival, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide 21/10/2021

In a world swimming in the complexity of political correctness, Sydney Theatre Company and Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta’s production of White Pearl will challenge your beliefs by propelling you into the depths of discomfort.

The Singapore headquarters of Clearday™, a relatively new competitor in the Asian skincare market, is the focal point of White Pearl. With an ambitious team of women at the helm, they catapult their new skincare range, White Pearl skin whitening cream, into sales success. However, when their most recent television commercial is leaked online, it goes viral due to its overtly racist overtones. The narrative delves into the fallout that immediately follows.

Anchuli Felicia King’s script captures the satirical subtlety of inter-Asian relations, racism, virulent corporate culture, and the differing cultural norms of the East versus the West. This is achieved via pointed, quick-fire vernacular idiosyncrasies plus intricate, unorthodox humour to ensure audience engagement. It is satire at its finest.

Director Priscilla Jackman’s production finds equilibrium between the light-hearted and murky, the straightforward and complex, the comedic and dramatic while remaining focussed on the six distinctive female voices. Jeremy Allen’s set represents a contemporary office in an activity-based learning environment with toilet cubicles to the side of the stage, an area to escape from prying eyes and ears. A big-screen projects the ad’s viral progression while Damien Cooper’s lighting captures the neon jungle of Singapore with numerous lighting fixtures that are also utilised comedically at times. Michael Toisuta and Me-Lee Hay’s sound design enhances the narrative and embraces emotion much like a movie score.

With an ensemble cast to rival that of Friends and a theme-packed storyline, White Pearl is a fortuitous delight of the 2021 OzAsia Festival.

Kristy Best, as Indian-Singaporean Priya Singh, exudes both strength and viciousness as she brings the term “boss bitch” to life. Deborah An portrays the opportunistic yet sincere South Korean Chemist Soo-Jin Park with believability. Lin Yin’s Chinese Xiao Chen spends the majority of the time crying in the toilet. Despite this, her downhearted and sullen demeanour is fodder for some wonderful couplings, including a scene with stereotypical rival, Japanese Ruki Minami (Mayu Iwasaki), where the said stereotypical rivalry is resolved. Cheryl Ho, as Sunny Lee, is the official comedic relief with a delivery lathered in intelligent cynicism. Nicole Milinkovic shines as the vivacious Thai-American Built Suttikul. Her relationship with antagonist Marcel Benoit (Matthew Pearce) introduces a captivating sub-plot resulting in some of the play’s finest scenes thanks to their chemistry.

White Pearl is a veritable minefield of identity and cultural complexities intertwined with corporate toxicity. Plus, racism, of which there is a lot. It is a think piece sure to invite questions regarding the culturally unfamiliar or unknown but is by no means a snoozer. In fact, it is an at times a raucous and entertaining demonstration of power that renders you balancing between disbelief and mirth.

OzAsia Review By Anita Kertes

White Pearl finishes tonight with two shows at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets from OzAsia.

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