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A Playlist for the Revolution at Bush Theatre

Although set in Hong Kong in 2019, at a precarious time for the former British colony, the production’s intentions couldn’t be clearer in the show’s programme: “A Playlist for the Revolution is a work of fiction created for entertainment purposes only.” There are also numerous disclaimers about how absolutely everything in the show is not meant to resemble anything real – there’s even one exonerating the venue and its staff (and therefore, presumably, its trustees, supporters and freelance workers as well) from necessarily reflecting any “political perspectives or affiliations expressed by characters in the play”.

Mei Mei Macleod (Chloe) and Liam Lau-Fernandez (Jonathan) in 'A Playlist for the Revolution' at Bush Theatre. Photo credit Criag Fuller.
Mei Mei Macleod (Chloe) and Liam Lau-Fernandez (Jonathan) in ‘A Playlist for the Revolution’ at Bush Theatre. Photo credit Criag Fuller.

Without that context, the show would – and may still in the eyes of some – come across as rather superficial, playing to the gallery as it does quite gloriously. The set (Liam Bunster) remains static, allowing for swift scene changes, and gradually reveals its versatility as a university seminar room, local restaurant and funeral venue, amongst other things. Jonathan (Liam Lau-Fernandez) meets Chloe (Mei Mei Macleod) in Hong Kong: she initially thinks of him as being stuffy and ‘square’ but it turns out he is merely dressed appropriately for a wedding, and he brings the house down with some funky dance moves when a song he enjoys is played.

It is, however, one of the few songs they mutually enjoy – for the most part their preferences are substantially different. But they agree to give each other’s favourites a try, which gives rise to the playlist of the show’s title, which in turn makes the revolution in question more of a personal one than it is a political one. There were, as Mr Chu (Zak Shukor), a university employee points out, songs written for the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests, but they barely feature in a soundtrack that instead largely includes chart music tunes such as ‘Umbrella’ by Rhianna featuring Jay-Z and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.

Narratively speaking, a late scene would have been somewhat contrived had it not been for the use, however irregular by contemporary standards, of social media and mobile telephony by Jonathan and Chloe, the former being more wary of what is posted, even privately, particularly after he joins Mr Chu and other protesters in their fight against the Hong Kong government. There isn’t much in the show about what precisely they’re protesting about, either because it’s deemed to be relatively common knowledge, being well within living memory and being reported on by mainstream media (however selectively and biasedly, true to form), and/or because it would detract from the main objective of the play – light entertainment.

It is to the show’s credit that, despite a backdrop of injuries being sustained by protestors and the use of tear gas by riot police (Mr Chu puts on a gas mask because he says he needs some fresh air, before adding he is only making a figure of speech), as well as Chloe having moved to the UK, leaving Jonathan behind, the laughs from the audience are hearty and regular. The generation gap between Mr Chu and Jonathan is mined for all its worth, with the older man even managing a punchline about online cancel culture.

A moment or two of poignancy comes in a letter Mr Chu writes to his family, friends and acquaintances, which I won’t say anything more about as it would be giving too much away. The setting is a curious one for a comedy, but it nonetheless reveals how even in bleak and drastic circumstances, cheerfulness can keep breaking through. It’s well-paced, and it’s always a good sign when the evening at the theatre whizzes by and the show feels considerably shorter than it was. An unapologetic and forthright production delivered by a cast very much on the ball.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A wedding in Hong Kong, 2019. Two worlds collide. A spark ignites.

Jonathan is pretty sure his life will look just like his father’s: a good job, a family, and firmly settled in Hong Kong.

Chloe is about to start university in England, and she’s ready to be the Asian Elle Woods. Empowered by the music of BTS, M.I.A and Beyonce (of course), she has big plans to make her mark.

Through months of sharing messages, music reccs and late-night confessions, they both get swept up in the promise of how someone unexpected can change your world. What they don’t realise is that the world around them is about to change forever.

Liam Lau-Fernandez as Jonathan
Mei Mei Macleod as Chloe
Zak Shukor as Mr Chu

A Bush Theatre production
Written by AJ Yi
Directed by Emily Ling Williams

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