he sexual enslavement of so-called “consolation girls” throughout Asia by Japan’s military in World Warfare II is the topic of this hard-hitting play by Kyo Choi, a South Korean author primarily based in London. Although removed from refined as a chunk of drama, it explores this horrific and under-reported slice of historical past lucidly and effectively. It additionally packs extra surprises into the second half than anybody would moderately count on from the clunky first act.
Between 50,000 and 200,000 girls are thought to have been kidnapped or coerced, trafficked removed from their homelands, after which systematically raped each day beneath official Japanese navy coverage. These not murdered earlier than the invaders’ give up had been silenced for many years, by a tradition of disgrace at house or by Allied complicity in Japan’s stonewalling denial that something occurred, or that the ladies “volunteered”. Kyo distills this right into a story of two girls taking up the sexist, racist world institution.
In 1991, Sri Lankan laywer Priyanka Silva (Sharan Phull) begins to research the wartime atrocities for the UN, partly prompted by private causes which can be sketched in later. Kim Solar-Hee (Sarah Lam) is the one previously enslaved lady who will converse to her. In a parallel narrative aged Han Min (Kwong Loke), who married the pregnant Solar-Hee on liberation, bickers together with his westernised flight-attendant daughter Han Yuna (Minhee Yeo). I believed I’d obtained the plot revelations just about labored out from right here: I used to be fallacious.
Kyo provides a variety of background element and large concepts. American GI’s themselves abused girls in a Tokyo “consolation station” into 1946, effectively after VJ Day. Violence in opposition to girls and ladies wasn’t formally a part of the UN Human Rights Mandate till 1994, apparently. Violent misogyny stays an unstated a part of how nations wage each struggle and peace, she suggests. American guilt about dropping atomic bombs on Japan robbed them of the ethical excessive floor, too.
However the early dialogue is stuffed with thudding exposition, a lot of it sparked by Priyanka’s nemesis, the absurdly caricatured US diplomat Jock Taylor (Ross Armstrong). This drawling loon might barely be extra patronising if he pointed finger weapons at Priyanka and referred to as her “little woman”. Emotion is shoehorned into the plot by manufactured arguments, which makes it all of the extra shocking when a real bombshell comes alongside.
The play was developed by New Earth Theatre, which exists to advertise British East and South East Asian artists, and acts as co-producer right here with the Arcola and North Wall. It unfolds briefly scenes, briskly directed by North Wall’s Ria Parry on a set papered by designer TK Hay with paperwork: paperwork and realpolitik stopped these girls getting justice, and in a scene set in 2018 Priyanka says she stopped working with the UN as a result of it concerned “an excessive amount of white tape”.
It’s barely jarring that Solar-Hee’s youthful incarnation (Jessie Baek) speaks fluent acquired pronunciation, whereas the older characters use stilted English. However regardless of the flaws in execution, it is a story that must be advised, as uncomfortable as it’s to listen to.
Arcola Theatre, to eight Oct; arcolatheatre.com