Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play at the Young Vic
Kimber Lee’s Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play arrives at London’s Young Vic following a well-received run in Manchester at The Royal Exchange Theatre. Having won the Bruntwood Prize in 2019 and with plentiful plaudits surrounding the production, expectations are high, but does it live up to them?
Given a title as aggressive as this, audiences wouldn’t be surprised to see a revered work of the musical canon to be annihilated over the course of two hours. This is indeed a pithy, punchy play by an insightful author who has a great deal of valid arguments to air. Lee knows, however, that nothing gets people on side like humour. Spectators are met with what can only be described as an urgent, eclectic experience. With narration including stage directions and the instruction of blackouts as well as set and scene changes occurring before our eyes, it at times feels Brechtian. We are never permitted to become too absorbed in the play. Instead, we are constantly reminded of its intentions.
Tackling the misrepresentation of Asian people in western art forms, Lee employs heightened and humorous tactics to convey her very serious points. We witness the same story of stereotypical characters and stale scenarios being told under different guises and in different time periods. This allows the playwright to question just how much has changed as society has progressed. Lee satirises the 1904 opera Madama Butterfly and, as the title suggests, its 1989 musical adaptation, Miss Saigon. She pokes fun at 70s sitcom M*A*S*H and problematic movie The World of Suzie Wong, highlighting the tired tropes attached to each. While the concept could easily become gimmicky, the sharp script sustains momentum for most of its duration. There are moments when the pace lapses and we want to exclaim that we get the point. The structure of the play relies on repetition, and at times this device feels a tad overused. A slight trim would not take much away from what is otherwise an impactful production.
Mei Mac is engagingly exuberant as central character Kim. She anchors the piece by appearing as the same character throughout. With expert comic timing yet also the ability to evoke empathy and emotion from the crowd, the actor is simply a joy to watch. She is well supported by a stellar ensemble: Lourdes Faberes orders our attention in every scene as she multi-roles various characters, Jeff D’Sangalang garners many laughs and Jennifer Kirby is perfectly cast. Her monologue towards the climax of the play is so well executed, it prompts many a head shake and tut from audience members. Tom Weston-Jones as the white knight in shining armour, sent to rescue poor Kim, also shines. His use of non-sensical Chinese and Japanese words is hilarious, yet also a sad representation of how western film and theatre have got it so, so wrong in the past. Rochelle Rose predominantly serves as the narrator of the play. In a lesser actor’s hands, this role might feel perfunctory, however Rose delivers each line with verve and commands laughter. She joins the players on stage during the final act and once more delights as Brenda. The committed cast more than deserve the standing ovation they receive.
Colonialism and the lasting imprint of imperialism are centre stage here. Rather than becoming preachy and overburdened with its weighty themes, however, this polemical play makes its case in the most entertaining of ways. Relevant, important and bursting with ideas that demand to be talked and thought about, Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play is an essential piece of new writing and an undeniably memorable experience. Those expectations are more than met, its plaudits vindicated.
Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play is at the Young Vic from 18th September until 4th November 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.