On the Queensland Theatre stage, the Singaporean boardroom of Clearday Cosmetics is blinding.
The walls are plastered in bright pastels, further brightened by high-calibre fluorescent lighting – an environment that says, ‘We’re not like the other stuffy, bland companies. We’re fun!’. However, within the impressive candy-coloured set design brews a toxic culture that comes to boiling point when a racist advertisement for a skin-whitening cream leaks online and goes viral in the blackly-comic satire ‘White Pearl’
The play’s setting reflects the start-up companies that have popped up since the dawn of Facebook, and playwright Anchuli Felicia King’s script accurately portrays the environment to a scary degree, and brilliantly satirises them. That mentality is enforced through such great choices as the company’s 2IC Sunny’s (played by Cheryl Ho) dude-bro accent telling everyone to ‘chillax’, to the main cast gathered around tables littered with MacBooks and KFC wrappers. A flashback sequence elicits laughs of recognition at the hollow buzzwords used within these workplaces, such as ‘like Facebook’, ‘democratic’, and ‘we’re like a family’.
Alongside satirising start-ups, King’s script uses the setting to criticise 21st Century capitalism. Everything from performative virtue signalling to the still-reigning dominance of the United States gets covered, while the dissonance of online culture is illustrated through videos (also created by King) of heated comment section debates and the rising view-counter of the video. The play may cover a lot of topics but they are covered subtly. The only time the play creaks from the weight of ideas is an inessential subplot about how the video is leaked that detracts from the fantastic core of the play.
Image © Phil Erbacher
The highlight of ‘White Pearl’ is the cast and the portrayal of their well-drawn characters. The six actresses who portray the Clearday employees each portray a different nationality within Asia, communicating their differences through their accents, mannerisms, and dress. The clashing of cultures provides a lot of conflict, especially as each reveals their views and suspicions, and shows that Asia isn’t the monoculture that the ignorant believes it to be. The dominant performance is that of Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, whose portrayal of Clearday founder Priya is a storm of aggressive girl-boss energy, and likely to provoke audiences with reminders of personal experiences with toxic bosses on the warpath.
‘White Pearl’ is a fantastic, discomfiting, and hilarious reflection of the contemporary workplace, realised under the eye of director Priscilla Jackman. It marks a fantastic playwriting debut for Anchuli Felicia King – the first of many must-see stories by this rising talent.
‘White Pearl’ Tour Dates
17 June-10 July – Queensland Theatre 15 July-4 September – Sydney Theatre Company 9-11 September – Riverside Theatre Parramatta 15-18 September – Canberra Theatre Centre