A Playlist for the Revolution - Bush Theatre
A rebellious dancing romance
“I want to die having stood for something” declares Chloe on her last evening in Hong Kong, unaware that that fate is waiting for fifteen people within two years of her statement - a result of the 2019/20 protests that shook the city to its core, generating headlines across the world. AJ Yi’s thrilling new play spotlights personal perspectives on the conflict, beautifully examining identity and the innate power music weaves throughout society and history. What begins as a one-night romance descends into a whirlwind of dissent, humour and longing, all powered by A Playlist for the Revolution. This is how to do political theatre.
Chloe (Mei Mei Macleod) and Jonathan (Liam Lau-Fernandez) meet at a wedding, their contrasting attitudes to the world clear through their language and passions but equally through their clothing - Chloe in a flowing orange-pink getup, Jonathan in a fitted grey suit. He cares more for numbers and structure, and she for music and star signs. They bond over music, dancing and fawning over the influence of Beyoncé before turning to darker topics of funerals and how they want to die - the first hints that this play is much more than a sweet rom-com. The unlikely meet-cute is organic and natural, unravelled exquisitely by the two actors but after a one night something, she returns to England to study law, “but not in a capitalist way” she assures. Now separated by 9,500km of land and sea they keep in touch, innocently gifting each other song suggestions, flirting through the phone as the political situation in Hong Kong shifts and it becomes impossible to escape its gravitational pull.
Macleod and Lau-Fernandez are perfectly cast, seamless in their navigation of Chloe and Jonathan’s relationship. Macleod dances across the stage, emotions and thought freely visibly, comfortable in her skin and identity. This nicely falters and she begins to question whether she is enough of a Hong Konger, her initial innocence that the world can be saved by a playlist brought into sharp focus instead replaced by an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Lau-Fernandez is simply blistering as Jonathan, screeching from absolute extremes of character. His Act 1 scenes bring out his obsessive and anxiety-riddled personality, partially induced by a semi-sheltered upbringing, played delightfully with humour at the forefront, fearful in traversing the world of flirting. But act 2 sees a volatile change as he is immersed in the protests on the Hong Kong streets, carrying the impossible burden of fear and hopelessness whilst losing any sense of who he was mere months ago - an early career-defining performance that will make casting directors’ heads turn (not just because of his dance moves).
Zak Shukor completes the cast as Mr Chu, a janitor at Jonathan’s university, who, unlike his colleagues, decides to be part of the movement demanding change. Despite early hostilities, he serves as a surrogate father figure for Jonathan and as a protest veteran, he guides the young man into the new world through an exchange of intergenerational knowledge and banter. Shukor, emboldened by the multifaceted character, gifts a worthy performance, excelling in demonstrating the desperation and gloom, simply fantastic when paired with Lau-Fernandez.
AJ Yi’s script is bold and courageous in tackling a turbulent moment in recent history but yet remains grounded and authentic in its development of characters - the language glistens with authenticity and realism, never once feeling forced or fake. The two relationships flourish organically not once risking the immersion of the piece as it thrusts their arcs into the political fervour. Emily Ling Williams has done superb work in bringing this show together. She has staged the piece precisely, and in a dialogue-heavy show, she has refused to allow the piece to stagnate but still offers the time and space for the words to deliver their impact.
Design from Liam Bunster sees a simple panelled stage surrounded by a moat of oversized Tetris blocks nicely used for prop storage but also to form the rubble of buildings damaged by the police and protesters. The blank slate space is used well, able to differentiate between various characters’ locations simply whilst also forming a clean backdrop for Gillian Tan’s effective lighting and video design.
The Bush Theatre have continued their hot programming streak, continually offering space to worthy and timely shows that not only harbour exhilarating entertainment but also seek a higher purpose and significance. AJ Yi’s play is no exception. Aspiring writers take note because this is how to create a moving story whilst raising awareness of poignant and complex situations - an unforgettable and hilarious play that stays true to its purpose and honours the sacrifice of so many.
Running until 5th August - Tickets
Photography - Craig Fuller