White Pearl, Sydney Theatre Company | Review

Don’t have time to read the full review? Click here for a quick summary of the who, what, where and wine of this production.

There’s theatre that’s easy to watch, and theatre that’s difficult to watch. And whether it is easy or difficult is completely different to whether it is good or bad.

White Pearl is difficult to watch. But it’s great theatre.

CleardayTM cosmetics is a leader in the Asian beauty market, run by strong, ambitious women from across the continent. This company is a family, the office is a total vibe, and they love the start-up culture. When their new ad for the best-selling CleardayTM skin whitening cream goes viral for all the wrong reasons, however, and the blame game begins, the toxicity of corporate culture and professional and cultural prejudices the characters hold against each other quickly appear.

White Pearl is an interesting commentary on the way information flows around the world. In a Q&A after the performance, all actors from Asian backgrounds said that advertisements for skin whitening cream were commonplace and considered unproblematic across Asia. But globalisation through social media has pulled this product out of its vacuum and turned it into a controversial global discussion.

Director Priscilla Jackman skilfully wrangles a complex text to bring White Pearl to life. In addition to the central plot, she navigates a tricky subplot which introduces a whole new set of issues including domestic violence and extortion into the already complex fray. I wonder if the show bites off a little more than it can chew in terms of the number of issues it tries to tackle in just a couple of hours, but it does show the complex relationships between them.

Writer Anchuli Felicia King pursues a total lack of nuance in the script to communicate just how important nuance can be. Racial slurs and discriminatory behaviours are prominent – a risky move even when exploring issues like racism – but King achieves something significant in not seeking to rationalise, condone or condemn what we see on stage. Instead, she seeks to provide insight into the different types of racism that exist in the various microcosms of society and highlight that there is no single form of racism. This is a particularly important message in Australia, where, by having one of the highest media ownership concentrations in the world, it’s easy to get the wrong idea.

Each character gives a strong performance, but most are operating at 99% intensity for the whole show, which is a lot for the audience to endure. The few low-key scenes in the show then become a welcome relief, so I can’t help but feel that if more were present the show would feel more balanced. This is particularly relevant for character Priya Singh, played by Manali Datar, who performs several incredible monologues, however, because the energy of the show is consistently so high, we’re desensitised and they don’t land as well as they could. Similarly, Built Suttikul played by Nicole Milinkovic experiences frustration, abuse, and multiple personal crises, each of which blur into each other when they may feel more significant alone.

Staging is in your face, with off the charts #girlboss vibes, excess pink LED lighting alongside bright white furniture and big glass windows. The pop-punk soundtrack is excessively loud, pumping you up with its confident, cool girl energy – a front for layers upon layers of toxic corporate behaviours and attitudes. It’s not at all what I was expecting to see, and that’s exactly the point! Incredible audio-visual effects take us forward and back through time, giving the show clear chapters, and incorporates the social media part of the plot in a way that’s really captivating.

White Pearl is one of those stories that grows on you the more you think about it and encourages you to question your perception of the world, which you can probably tell given this review is 200 words longer than my others! It’s an incredible achievement, and such a valuable addition to the Australian theatre scene.

White Pearl is on 11 March to 23 April. Buy tickets here.

Wine Pairing | Rosé

Look I’m not going to lie to you, I initially thought of Rosé because this play is just so damn pink, and I love pink. But Rosé is also nice and easy drinking and appropriate with a pretty decent spread of foods, and the last thing White Pearl needs is a difficult drop to drink while you mull over it. Thus, a picnic wine is my first choice. Good vibes in every way.

My Pick: Head Wines Barossa Valley, Rosé Grenache, 2018

This Rosé is the definition of easy drinking, mainly because it’s made from Grenache grapes which are known for being fruity, lively and delightful even in their full red-wine form. Head Wine’s take on it features flavours including apricot, peach, strawberry and raspberry with a hint of minerality to make sure it’s not over-sweet.

Pick up a bottle for $25 from your local bottle-o.

Tasting Notes

Aussie Season11 March to 23 April, Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company
Ticket $$34-74
WriterAnchuli Felicia King
DirectorPriscilla Jackman
Theatre Type & GenrePlay, drama
See it if you likePeeking behind the curtain, transcultural storytelling, confronting but constructive theatre
Other InfoPlaywriting Australia developed White Pearl through its National New Play Development program and the 2018 National Play Festival
Wine PairingRosé
Criteria for Wine PairingFruit-forward, red fruits, high acid, fresh finish