You For Me For You tells the story of two sisters attempting to flee North Korea. Minhee and Junhee’s suffering under the regime is acute: both live in extreme rural poverty; Minhee’s health is rapidly deteriorating as a consequence of an extortionate and inadequate healthcare system; both have to suffer the humiliation of subservient and ritualistic demonstrations of support for the regime the images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il permanently looking over their living space, as is mandatory in North Korea.
Mia Chung’s play exhibits the range of psychological responses that the experience of living under such a regime can produce. Minhee appears to have internalised many of the propagandistic narratives she is exposed to being less ready to defy officials than her sister, and retaining a sense of fear about the outside world. This changes, as in a protracted magical realist sequence she recollects the struggles she has faced losing her husband and child as a consequence of living in an oppressive state. Junhee, on the other hand, is ready to risk her life in order to escape. When she emigrates to New York she discovers that the American dream is not without it’s shortcomings: long working hours and a blindness to the devastating impact of US foreign policy. Yet whilst having these reservations, she imbibes consumerist culture and parallels her sister in becoming indoctrinated (though to a less severe degree): transforming into a latte drinking, lactose intolerant yoga junkie.
Director Richard Twyman does a real service to Chung’s script. Surreal sequences blend seamlessly with performances that feel grounded and truthful. Jon Bausor’s design is simple and visually arresting: a reflective vortex that absorbs projected imagery to create a kaleidoscopic effect and that works very effectively to create the different environments needed: a vertiginous well, the bright lights of New York City, and the hallucinatory imagined space of North Korea. Katie Leung and Wendy Kweh as Junhee and Minhee subtly capture the complexity of a sibling bond that in spite of different experiences and outlooks has a powerful hold on each of these two characters.
You For Me For You is exactly the kind of show you hope that the Court might champion: politically engaged, formally innovative and expertly executed.