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Review of I’m Just Here To Buy Soy Sauce – Illuminate Festival

Illuminate FestivalA slow burner but always an intriguing play, I’m Just Here To Buy Soy Sauce follows a fairly straightforward storyline, with a technique of switching back and forth between very different scenarios that I’ve seen before. Usually, it leaves me wanting, because I just get into one plot before there’s a scene change to the parallel plot, and then the same thing happens in reverse a few minutes later, and so on. I would then get increasingly frustrated as the play ultimately comes across as being all over the place, and leave the theatre an unhappy bunny. Perhaps only Alan Ayckbourn plays succeed in simultaneously continually switching and keeping me engaged, and that is because, I suspect, the action between different characters that are switched between takes place in the same room.

A bit of background, if you will. The play’s title is not to be taken literally; it is a Chinese idiom. It is a phrase used to denote apathy in a topic, a way of saying, “I really don’t care about that,” or, to quote Vicky Pollard, “Am I bovvered?” The “soy sauce” phrase was used on social media as a hashtag a while back, in response to censorship of the same social media sites by the Chinese government.

Now, ‘Soy Sauce’ (as its creatives have taken to calling it, for short) achieves that rarity of scene and character switching whilst not breaking up the flow of the play as a whole. Scenes come to a natural end – perhaps one (and only one) ended a little abruptly. But the character development in all four characters, the narrative being in chronological order, and the use of two actors to play two characters each, combined together to make this a smooth and pleasant journey.

The two couples that feature in this play are almost complete opposites, such that the central topic is covered from contrasting angles. The housing crisis is having a detrimental impact on very many people in and around London, and there are some compelling explanations given through the narrative as to why this is happening. The play is not so prescriptive, however, as to assert possible solutions, though its epilogue, set in the future after some years, is at once both slightly outrageous and highly possible.

Alexander Wilson switches well between Old Etonian Freddie and the well-to-do but hardly posh Fraser, handling both contrasting roles deftly with ease and confidence. Joyce Veheary’s Cassandra is palpably corporate, indulging in conduct and vocabulary befitting a lady who has modified ‘alpha male’ tactics in order to enhance career progression; her Charmaine, meanwhile, is contrastingly down to earth.

Cassandra speaks her true mind when under the influence of alcohol, as many people do, and she finds herself ultimately unable to defend the seemingly indefensible.

The set is kept simple, with a very creative use of existing theatre signage in the New Wimbledon Studio in one scene, which I was impressed by. There’s a lot that others can relate to in the situation that Fraser and Charmaine find themselves in (even things that have nothing to do with the housing bubble). It’s good that plays like this raise awareness of important topics affecting our world today – who knows, there might even be people who take note of what happens in this play and adjust their own attitudes towards both money and their relationships accordingly.

I’m Just Here To Buy Soy Sauce is an absorbing piece of theatre with a strong and reasonably tight script. It may raise more questions than answers, but here, this only adds to the show’s charm. It only leaves me to recommend a site viewing of this production should the opportunity arise.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

I’m Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce
Pokfulam Road Productions
18th – 19th May 2016

Who is to blame for the London housing crisis?
It is estimated that by 2025 China will have invested £105 billion in British infrastructure, energy, transport but primarily in – property. So are the Chinese solely to blame for the UK housing crisis? Jingan Young’s
“I’m Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce” follows two pairs of couples as they attempt to make sense of the world around them. A political rom-com that can fit inside your suitcase.

Illuminate Festival
2nd May-28th May
New Wimbledon Studio
Tickets £10 (£8 concessions)
*See it again * £5 offer


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