A timely, psychological drama about people hurting others out of fear, Black and White Tea Room‘s excellent writing and strong performances ensure it really ought to be on your Fringe schedule.
Black and White Tea Room – Counsellor is a psychological Korean drama about trust and hypocrisy. One man offers therapy to those who are emotionally and psychologically wounded, but does not acknowledge his own problems until one patient forces him to remember his unflattering past. It’s a story about people in a position to help who instead hurt you out of fear; about individuals unable to apologize. A show that’s topical no matter where you come from.
First of all, Black and White Team Room‘s text (by writer/director Cha Hyun Suk) is excellent. More than just a plot keeping your attention, Suk’s writing – especially in the latter half of the play – poses questions that don’t leave you for days to come. The hypocrisy of telling someone you’ve hurt badly to trust you – not because you repent but because the incident was so trivial to you that you don’t remember – is for me very telling of the majority of modern society, and so is the act of accusing the victim of bestiality when they want revenge. Through a simple storyline that everyone can follow, without unnecessary intellectualisation, Cha Hyun Suk asks some pressing and important questions in a language that everyone can understand.
As a director, Suk keeps more to the background – lets the writing and acting be the leading forces of the show. Actors Jonathan Kemp and Nicholas Collett take this on well and keep the audience in a tense, interested state throughout the performance. Nevertheless, the director makes one brilliant choice and that is to use a record turning on a gramophone without producing any sound in order to foreshadow a character’s deafness. It is unexpected and witty, and one of the best foreshadowing I’ve seen in a long time. Throughout, the audience (same as the character in question) does not know what music is playing; they can only guess. Although this cannot ever truly show to the audience what it’s like to be deaf, it helps ever so slightly to understand the character better.
It has to be said that Jonathan Kemp is a hearing actor playing a deaf character and that doesn’t sit entirely OK with me. Especially since the story itself centres around deafness for the majority of the second half, as talented an actor Kemp is, one can’t help but think a D/deaf individual would have been much more suitable for the role. Since Black and White Tea Room is largely problematizing trust, it seems the right time to say: we all need to trust that disabled actors can also do their job just as brilliantly and give them opportunities to do so.
English and Korean casts play alternatively. I’ve only seen the former, but am hoping to catch the original (subtitled version) as well. The problematic casting decision aside, Black and White Tea Room is a fascinating piece of work that really ought to be on your Fringe schedule.