New Earth Theatre’s latest collaboration with the Arcola: The Apology is a diamond in the rough. It’s not often you come across a show in London that digs deep into history to provide a shocking hidden abomination of the most harrowing war crimes during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
Written by Kyo Choi and directed by Ria Parry, the strong cast of 6 share the true story of the Comfort Women: an estimated 50,000 – 200,000 Korean women who were recruited into sexual slavery to appease the Japanese military (to begin with), extending also to the American military upon liberation. These ‘comfort stations’, executing the basest human evil behaviour, were deliberately covered up and protected from being discovered by the United Nations to serve justice.
Choi’s story is a heart-wrenching education into a period of history that isn’t explored in the UK education curriculum. Perhaps this is due to the extreme horror of the war crimes, yet the widescale intended neglect is one of the most shameful coverups of the 20th Century.
Performed by Sarah Lam as Kim Sun-Hee, Jessie Baek as Bok Hae, Kwong Loke as Han Min and Minhee Yeo as Han Yuna, the experiences of the first woman who spoke up with evidence are shared. While Jock Tayler, played by Ross Armstrong, and Priyanka Silva, played by Sharan Phull, give insight into the American interference of the UN investigation.
Loke’s relationship with Yeo is particularly heartbreaking as they reach an emotionally high stakes vulnerability due to the fragile context of revealing the truth of Han Min’s involvement in the Comfort Women organisation. Similarly, Yeo’s portrayal of Han Yuna is sympathetic and emotionally charged. Their understanding and respect for the context is exemplary.
Likewise, the fiery interchange between Phull’s UN investigator and Armstrong’s American political mouthpiece, is a great representation of the shocking exploitation followed by the horrifying efforts involved to screen them. Phull and Loke have a particularly enlightening scene giving us a historical understanding of the sheer scale of the Comfort Station operation and the monstrosities of occupation prior to World War II.
Ria Parry and New Earth Theatre’s production of Kyo Choi’s The Apology is an extremely rare story of the horrors the Comfort Women faced, and many are still haunted by; a story full of pain and suffering that must be seen to be remembered and respected as an awful display of human behaviour.
It runs until 8 October.
Review: Sebastian Calver