What I love about theatre is how much it draws people in, depending on what the topic is and how much they can relate to it. Now I’m not Korean, but I am an Asian-Australian and a long-time K-Pop fan, which I thought was enough to set me up for what K-BOX had in store. However, I wasn’t prepared for what the show delivered.
Written by Ra Chapman, K-BOX follows Lucy, a 34-year-old Korean adoptee at a lull in her life. She’s broken up with her boyfriend, has quit her job, and has run out of friends’ places to crash. Returning to her family’s home without notice, George and Shirley weren’t prepared for their daughter’s return to live with them, who is also clearly going through a crisis. Uncertain of the reason for her restlessness and disorientation, things change when Lucy is reunited with a box she had as a child, and meets Kim, a contract free K-Pop idol.
The writing of K-BOX is so impressive and beautiful, I wish I could quote you the lines that made me laugh, and the ones that broke my heart. Even more so, the script is so eloquently written that even during the moments where there is no dialogue, the show is captivating and incredibly moving.
Everything within this production has been thoughtfully crafted and created to tell a story that is so obviously personal to its writer. And because of this, the rollercoaster of emotions and the drama that Lucy goes through feels real.
Admittedly, I was feeling second hand embarrassment at the comments that Maude Davey’s character Shirley was making, but only because I could clearly see my own mother in her, with her comments and mannerisms, as well as bits of my father with how patient, quiet, and understanding that George is, which is also down to Syd Brisbane’s great performance, Maude Davey’s talent, and their amazing chemistry on-stage together. Along with Susanna Qian as their daughter Lucy, the three really feel like a family. Their exchanges feel authentic, believable, and sometimes when they bicker, it feels like you shouldn’t be in the same room with them because of how awkward and uncomfortable things become. At the same time, some of these moments are the funniest of the production. Qian is also fantastic in this production and her, along with her box, are the heart of the show.
When Jeffrey Liu’s character, Kim suddenly appears and meets the family, the dynamic soon shifts, and while Lucy can see a clearer path between her troubles and what she wants, the journey is a messy one. Liu’s appearance as a K-Pop star feels familiar, looking like Woozi from the K-Pop group Seventeen with pastel pink hair and a gorgeous jacket with floral décor designed by Romanie Harper that I absolutely adored and wish I had. It wasn’t long before Liu impressed audiences with his stage presence, and his excellent vocal runs with renditions of BTS’ ‘Fake Love’ and Rain’s ‘Love Song’. I almost forgot I was at a play and thought I really was at a K-Pop concert for a moment.
Kim isn’t just a K-Pop star though. He’s free to do as he pleases at a new chapter in his life and genuinely cares about Lucy, gradually aware that she is at a phase of her life that may not be the same as his.
There is a moment in this production that brought me back to my past. I’m half Malaysian-Chinese, half Filipina, Australian born, and cannot speak a word of Chinese nor do I have a Chinese name. It would frustrate me when I would venture to the Asian suburbs of Melbourne (Box Hill, I’m looking at you) and be spoken to in Chinese. Sometimes, I would even tell people that I wasn’t Chinese, so that they wouldn’t expect me to speak the language and leave me alone. In a way, you could say I conflicted with my ethnicity and nationality, never feeling Asian enough, and yet seemingly ‘too Asian’ to others.
My dating history also entailed of feeling more comfortable dating Caucasian guys because when I was with Chinese partners, their parents wouldn’t accept me because I was ‘too westernised’, their expectations and ideals were very typical of a culture that I didn’t entirely agree and identify with. Because of all this, I saw myself in both Kim and Lucy, which made the piece feel very powerful and relatable. The excellent homely set design by Romanie Harper and the both charming and haunting sound design by Marco Cher-Gibard only assist in enhancing the power of this production.
But feeling alienated in your own skin isn’t limited to race, age, gender, or being an adoptee, although K-BOX does show us the bliss and grief of being one. It’s not hard to feel like a foreigner in your own life and the way that this is expressed in K-BOX is executed magnificently while still handled with care, respect, and love.
K-BOX is hands down one of the must-see shows of 2022. Ra Chapman’s K-BOX, in its own unique and clever way, addresses that what we’ve loved, lost, and have gained, all combine to make us who we are today. Although we are still shifting and forever evolving, it is important to remember our origins, our flaws, and to utilise them to keep us grounded.
This beautifully brilliant production is clearly a love letter to a past self; full of heart, pain, understanding, regret, and more importantly, forgiveness – to a parent and to yourself. I want to see more original Australian stories on stage that are as arresting, honest, and heartfelt as this one.
K-BOX is currently playing at Beckett Theatre in Malthouse Theatre until the 18th of September.
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Photography by Phoebe Powell.