An explicitly racist advertisement for a skin-whitening treatment, the eponymous White Pearl cream, has gone viral. The pastel offices of ClearDay – the Singaporean cosmetics company behind the ad – become the backdrop for a disastrous attempt at damage control. Presided over by manager Priya Singh (a vigorous performance by Farzana Dua Elahe), ClearDay’s publicity crisis becomes the crucible for the team’s disintegration, to horribly humorous effect.
This new piece by Thai-Australian playwright Anchuli Felicia King is a meticulously constructed black comedy. In a peppy eighty-five minutes, White Pearl carves through the major political concerns of today. Disputes about ethnicity, nation, and gender boil over among the ClearDay team, especially regarding the endemic problems of international cosmetics. This is unabashedly political theatre, an accounting of some of the sunk costs of modern society. With the dark glee that animates the best satires, King skewers her subject, peeling back the carapace to reveal something complex and repulsive. But White Pearl is also unabashedly entertaining. The combination of globalisation-era themes with the archetypal genre of the workplace black comedy is confidently handled. King’s dialogue is taut, witty, and rhythmic; the dynamics between her characters are sophisticated and dependable.