For October’s Cog Night, we went to The Young Vic to see Untitled: F*ck M*ss S**gon Play. Nazma shares her rundown of the evening, including show spoilers.
This was my second viewing of Untitled: F*ck M*ss S**gon Play, having seen it at The Royal Exchange Theatre during its premiere at Manchester International Festival 2023 over the summer and I was looking forward to seeing how it translated to The Young Vic, a venue which I’d never been to before.
Pre-show, a few of us stopped by Vaulty Towers, around the corner to Waterloo. We sat beneath a pair of giant mummified-hands and the decor was very on theme for Halloween, although apparently it’s like this all the time.
A short walk away, we arrived at The Young Vic and joined the queue snaking through the bar to enter the Main House Theatre. The space felt a little more intimate than The Royal Exchange, although that could be due to my seat being closer to the stage this time around.
My ears instantly picked up on the soundtrack as we took our seats – David Bowie’s China Girl and Carl Douglas’ Kung-Fu Fighting. Both songs are a guilty pleasure of mine, knowing they’re hugely stereotypical but not being able to resist singing along.
And so the scene was set for the stereotypes around East Asian characters (and in particular East Asian women) that we were to see on stage.
Guided by a narrator full of wit and sarcasm, we follow the fate of Kim – a woman in a place somewhere vaguely East Asian. We recognise it as the opening of Madame Butterfly. A dashing all-American hero-type stops by her village in the middle of a war/conflict. Is this her ticket out of the poor life she’s living in the unnamed village she’s from? Nope!
The romance is short-lived and we fast forward to four years later, Kim is still in her village, a little worse for wear, awaiting the return of her dashing American white saviour. He does return, but with his white American wife in tow, there to “rescue” the illegitimate child he had with Kim. After watching her son head off into the sunset for a better life in America, Kim is left all alone and very poetically and gracefully takes her own life.
Then it happens all over again, first via the almost identical plot of South Pacific. And then cycling through multiple versions of the same story, decade after decade, each in a slightly different East Asian location, all with the same outcome. Comically, they couldn’t even bring themselves to name ‘Miss Saigon‘ when they reached it.
Pauses and lighting changes break up the story as we see Kim realising she’s in some kind of Groundhog Day scenario and try as she may to change the script, she always ends up dead.
They made it funny and sassy and pretty thrilling to watch. We laughed along at the ridiculousness of the scenarios of her death – I particularly chuckled as pills fell from the sky and inevitably resulted in her overdosing. I was feeling sci-fi vibes as the lights flashed and the story repeated itself, subtly and sometimes not so subtly highlighting patterns of class, gender, race and colonialism.
As this was my second viewing, already knowing where the play was going, I got to appreciate the physicality of the performers more this time around with their stunts, plus I’d totally forgotten the little touches of singing and dancing.
There wasn’t an interval, but there was a clear marking of the show switching pace and things took a turn with Kim stepping into 2023 in NYC. “Will it be any different?” the narrator asked, as she took off her shoes and stepped into a dining room scene alongside the rest of the characters.
The second half dragged a little for me as we watched Kim now confused by her seemingly perfect life, married to her American hero and trying to figure out how to break the cycle. I appreciated how she became more pissed off as the trauma kept happening to her, because so often in life women are told to be patient and silent and graceful through their difficult times.
The first time I watched the show, I was a little puzzled trying to find meaning in how it ended. This time around I was in the mood to let it be.
Overall, I really loved this show. The cast were superb, I was impressed with the sets conjured up in-the-round with great use of lighting and sound. It was just so well written and entertaining. Behind it all was a serious commentary on society and as a woman of colour I recognised so many of the tropes.
Illustration by Eliott Bulpett for our Cultural Calendar.