Kimber Lee’s Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play had me right up until the moment when it didn’t.
It’s a work filled with righteous indignation about the portrayal of Asian people in popular fiction, from Madam Butterfly to Miss Saigon to a thousand other white, colonial fantasies about mystical “orientals”.
The same story is essentially acted out four times, with a beautiful young girl meeting a handsome American navy man, getting knocked up and abandoned, only for him to return years later with a very white, very blonde wife to claim the child, leading to the woman’s suicide.
In one telling the woman is Korean, in another Polynesian. Sometimes her mother pimps her out to the American, other times it’s an abusive husband. But the story beats remain the same.
These scenes have both bite and humour, with the biggest laughs going to the culturally insensitive American who attempts to communicate using gibberish, ‘ethnic sounding’ words along the lines of “Mimosa, Fuji, dojo”.
It’s all excellently, sardonically narrated by Rochelle Rose, who meanders through the audience delivering her delightfully hammy baritone.
The retellings of the story begin to suffer from diminishing returns after the second version but be careful what you wish for, because when the structure changes for the second half Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play becomes a real war of attrition.
Here the tragic heroine of the white colonial fantasies finds herself a character in a 2023 movie. She starts to realise she’s a fictional character when it becomes clear the cultural stereotypes are still very much in force, albeit in a more insidious way, and she decides to stage a jail break from the movie while the other characters go through the motions.
I in turn mentally envisaged escaping this interminable play, whose message about the weight of cultural trauma is worn like a yoke by those in the audience. I applaud its ideas and its ambition but by the end I was counting down the seconds until it was over.