Review: John Simm and Gemma Chan in The Homecoming, Trafalgar Studios
Review: The lost Arthur Miller play - No Villain, Old Red Lion

Review: You For Me For You, Royal Court upstairs

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Wendy Kweh and Katie Leung, You For Me For You, Royal Court. Photo Tristram Kenton

Who doesn't harbour a little curiosity for what life is like in North Korea? Mia Chung's play hints rather than shows, feeling sometimes like Alice through the looking glass crossed with Kafka - or maybe that is what it feels like?

Hunger is a feature - there were empathetic stomach rumblings from the woman sat next to me - the play opens with sisters Minhee (Wendy Kweh) and Junhee (Katie Leung) arguing over who should eat the meagre meal that's been prepared. Minhee is ill and therefore Junhee says she should eat it. Junhee works long hours so Minhee says she should have it. Their polite insistence is almost infuriating. It is Junhee who finally relents or rather is tricked by her sister into eating the food. It is symbolic for what later happens when the siblings decide to try and flee their homeland.

Minhee can't quite let go of the ideals of North Korea, that if you work hard enough everything will be OK. She gets left behind, sort of falls down the rabbit hole, where she goes on a mental journey through her tragic life, encountering absurd bureaucracy, musical rice and frog-like soldiers.

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Daisy Haggard and Katie Leung, You For Me For You, Royal Court. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Junhee makes it across the border and heads for America vowing to return to rescue her sister. At first everything is alien to her - the fast talking immigration officer is incomprehensible (a brilliant bit of writing by Chung and performance by Daisy Haggard). But she is soon mesmerised by the opportunity afforded to her, the speed and fluidity of life in the US.  However there is big part of her that remains North Korean and her behaviour and attitude serves to expose some of the absurdities of Western culture, its superficiality and self obsession.

The narrative switches constantly between the two sisters stories and is cleverly staged inside a hexagonal 'tube'. From underneath its surfaces different characters, props and set appear. Sometimes it is mirrored, sometimes there are projections and animations on its surfaces creating a dramatic visual effect. It works well as an abstract environment and, strangely, as a normal urban environment too.

For all the absurdity in You For Me For You - and it does take a little while to acclimatise to its tone - it does have a darker edge. There is futility in both cultures and an irony in the play's ending; it is a play that is about two different sisters and two different countries and how they change and stay the same.

It is 90 minutes without an interval and runs at the Royal Court Theatre upstairs until Jan 9.

* Great to see Paapa Essiedu who plays Wade, Junhee's American friend, can't wait to see him take on Hamlet for the RSC next year.


Andrew Leung who plays multiple roles in this was Mr W's boyfriend in Lilting.