A relatable, warm story about female friendship and the emotional struggles of recent migrants to the UK. The script needs still need some work but it still provides a nice opportunity to spend a relaxing evening with your best friend and a glass of wine. It also opens a conversation about the 2020’s wave of migration to the UK and the problems that immigrants face nowadays, but without the story being too heavy.
Spotlight on the female immigrants in the UK
There are a couple of factors that can get me excited about a play, in general. “Homeland” ticked a lot of these boxes even before I stepped through the door of the White Bear Theatre. The major one is relatability. And so: female-led production, check. Focusing on the life of immigrants in the UK – check. Based in a student-rented flat – well, I graduated 10 years ago so this one was a miss, but I could still relate to the time and place of the action. A portrayal of unorthodox, amusing characters? 4/4, quite a decent start from the get-go for me.
The production stages a day in the life of 3 Asian migrant flatmates in London who suddenly get an unexpected visitor, claiming to be an old friend. At the same time, one of the girls’ cash savings seems to be missing. Plus, there’s a secret birthday party happening in the background. Oh, and there are lots of facts about whales you will be informed about in the meantime. Sounds weird? Well, it is, but in a good way.
Behold, the quirky set of friends on stage
The cast: Woori Han, Li Xu, Mia Sumida, and Shannon Kurlander have great chemistry on stage and truly give a vibe of an unconventional, diverse yet very close group of friends. Each of the actresses has a distinct acting style and was given a short solo moment to showcase it. I especially enjoyed the opposite energies of Mia Sumida (calm and tidy) and Li Xu (a hurricane of randomness and altogether a little documentaries nerd). Woori Han delivered the most dramatic performance of the evening while Kurlander handled the role of a stranger-turned-friend with a lot of grace and humour.
Each of the girls has their own quirks, like the amusing addiction to raw cucumbers and casually mentioning whales in every conversation, a devotion to gummy candies, or the constant need to tidy the room. And by the way, it may seem a little exaggerated, but as a person who lived with Asian flatmates for 6 years (cheers to Sil, Dea, and Celine, you guys are awesome), I can attest that all kinds of behaviours like these are pretty much realistic. The attention to detail in character development is what I enjoyed the most in this show. By the end, I already felt like I knew all the girls pretty well and could sympathise with their problems.
One act, plenty of secrets to uncover
The play has an interesting concept, and quite some secrets to uncover. It seems a lot for a one-act play, but even with an open ending, it still delivers certain answers. Some of the questions remain open, just like the issues of the feeling of being misunderstood or ignored by the police just because of one’s nationality, or the overwhelming feeling of loneliness while being half the world away from one’s family.
I struggled with the way the script was written, and with its moments that were not well-planned, from a story’s logical flow point of view. Cases like the very beginning of the show when all flatmates can’t find their friend, but nobody suggests simply texting or calling, seems just too unreal (this is a group of students we are talking about). The whole idea and action that happens because of lack of contact would make sense – if it was explained with a blackout or some kind of WiFi issue. What makes it weirder is that phones are used later in the play – this made me even more confused.
“Homeland” means a lot of emotions
The issue of throwing a birthday party without knowing the actual birthday date also seems a bit bonkers, but I tried to explain it to myself with the character’s emotional characters. Nonetheless, with everyone’s social media profiles having a piece of information like birthday on it, it’s a slight script hiccup as well.
The emotions are pouring out on the stage – including a loud cry, shouts, etc. This reminded me a bit of the Asian TV shows – that on average are just much more emotional than the “Western” ones. Which made it ok, taking into consideration that the show was directed by a Korean director and was supposed to be a window into the cultures of the main heroines. But a word of caution – you may be surprised by the over-the-top emotions in this play.
“Homeland” is a warm blanket for the soul of any migrant in the UK. As a show, it still requires quite some work, but via its ending, it’s already giving the unique vibe of friendship and support. It’s a young play with a lot of potential!
Homeland, by Theatre Company Knee
2nd – 6th August 2022 , White Bear Theatre
Written and directed by: HeeJin Kim
Production Manager: Lasse Bohnsack
Assistant Director: Xinming Han
Producer: Moé Saito