The hit sitcom returns to its roots
Ten years before the Netflix show landed on our screens, Kim’s Convenience was delighting audiences at the Toronto Fringe Festival and now the writer has brought the show back to where it all began by staging the play for the first time in the UK. Staged over a day in the Toronto corner shop, Ins Choi’s play seeks to represent the crossroads at which differing cultures and generations meet, where sacrifices and understanding are vital for everyone to keep going. Though thoroughly better served in its sitcom format, Choi’s play is an expert insight into the reality for first-generation immigrants who see their children grow up in a foreign land they now call home.
Many children in the process of growing up understand that their parents have envisioned the idyllic life that they want them to live. Whether that be to be financially successful, travel the world or marry a specific type of person those dreams often fail to line up with what the child wants to do. This conflict can create fissures between generations even though each only wants the best for the other. This rings true within the convenience store as Mr Kim presses his daughter Janet on her career and lack of a husband as she approaches thirty years old. The repeated dismissal of Janet’s choices are a tough watch amongst the accurate comedy - her older brother Jung absent after similar arguments went too far. All of this bubbles to the surface when Mr Kim is handed an offer to buy his shop, the area around it rapidly filling with condos making the real estate attractive to big business. Confronted with question marks around his life’s legacy he is faced with mounting pressure to make a choice on behalf of himself and his family.
Ins Choi writes and stars in this production, settling into the role of Mr Kim with ease. As the central patriarch, he is bitter at the hand he has been dealt, exacerbated by the fact that his life’s work to offer a better life to his now grown-up children has yet to fully materialise. Whilst shuffling around his shop, his often blunt delivery subtly switches between comedic and cutting depending on its intended target and a painful authenticity peaks out from behind his glasses. Mona Camille’s set design plants us delightfully with the convenience store. Shelves are stacked to bursting with crisps, chocolates and everything a person could need, even down to the Canadian maple leaves behind the counter. The space feels lived in and grounded, right down to the well-trodden path between the till and front door - delightful details to enhance the production’s believability.
With hindsight it seems obvious that this premise was destined for the sitcom treatment, the story full of larger-than-life beats and delivery. It occasionally struggles to land its emotional weight for this reason, however. The over-the-top reactions and direction feel out of step with the heavier moments and it never quite works out how to seamlessly switch between the two. The eighty-minute runtime though efficient, leaves little wiggle room for characters other than Mr Kim to be fully developed. Janet, Jung and their Umma (particularly the latter two) feel hollow and underutilised, Brian Law as Jung restricted to churn out all of his character work in two near monologues and Namju Go’s Umma unable to make a lasting impression despite her best efforts. Jennifer Kim’s Janet toys nicely within the realms of comedy, sparring with her stubborn father but equally dismantling his defence to make her voice heard. Completing the cast is Miles Mitchell, who impressively performs as all the various characters who enter the shop - accents and all. Mitchell forms a kind contrast to the drama occurring behind the counter, offering plenty of humour as he does so - a fine addition to the cast.
Fans of the Netflix show are sure to enjoy this wickedly funny production, especially when it comes to spotting the sparks of inspiration for the later series. This is a highly important story of migration and finding a new home in a world that you do not recognise but the play does not allow itself enough time to fully explore the impact of these issues and a rushed final third and underdeveloped characters is the result.
Running until 10th February - Tickets
Photography - Mark Douet