Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play is a brilliantly devised and humorous play that is weakened by its non-committal ending.

Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play is under immense pressure to deliver. It won the International Award for the Bruntwood Prize for playwriting in 2019, and the title is a direct challenge to a giant of the Musical Theatre Canon. Does Untitled deliver?  In a word, mostly. There’s a lot to love: insightful and witty writing; well-cast actors; clever staging; subtle but perfect lighting; and, of course, the support of the Royal Exchange’s legacy. Despite this, it feels “unfinished” as well as “untitled”. The play explores huge concepts, such as identity, heritage, representation, and cultural progress, and it is a difficult task for any production to probe these thoroughly in less than two hours. Untitled certainly makes a good attempt. 

I can see why Untitled won the Bruntwood prize; it is cleverly devised and transitions seamlessly from comedy to tragedy. It begins with almost SNL-style re-enactments of Madama Butterfly and South Pacific. The pattern is clear immediately: seduction, abandonment, death, repeat. Lee’s characters don’t re-enact Miss Saigon. This is a brilliant choice; it says Miss Saigon has no place on stage, and its plot is so unoriginal that the play doesn’t need it to demonstrate this pervasive pattern of representation.  In other words, F*ck M*ss S**gon. 

The play consists of a series of cycles of this pattern playing out. In each cycle, the same characters — Kim, Rosie, Clark, Goro, and Evelyn — demonstrate the absurdity of Western Media’s representation of Asian cultures. The cycles become darker. Caricatures become characters, especially Kim. She becomes feistier and more emotionally exhausted as the cycles play out. In each cycle, she fights to keep her child and life, inexplicably losing both by some unknown compulsion. Weapons magically appear in her hands and all roads lead to self-destruction. As she tries to escape the pattern/cycle, she becomes an increasingly dimensional and relatable character, dressing in Lululemon gear and complaining of digestive problems. All the characters undergo similar transformations, but Kim’s progress is the most profound as she becomes aware of the cycle in which she exists.  

Untitled culminates in a final section that feels like a contemporary realist play. This section is set in 2023 New York and imagines what would have happened had Miss Saigon made it to America. The older Asian woman, Rosie, explains her experience as an immigrant, and she isn’t quite sure how she feels about it. Just as she seems on the cusp of articulating her opinion, Clark interrupts her. His wife, Kim, is a second-generation immigrant and the final section explores the identity crisis that emerges when media/literature represents Asian people as inferior and in need of a white savior. As Kim battles for the right to tell her own story, the play wavers in its commitment and the ending is uncertain, almost seeming to contradict its earlier message of fighting to be heard. It feels a little unfinished, but maybe this is representative of an identity crisis. Kim, and Asian women/people, must define themselves, and this continues in real life, beyond the play. However, as a play, I don’t think this works. I think the play needs a stronger and clearer ending. The ideas are so huge that Untitled can’t afford to let them trail off. 

Overall, see this play. This is an electric piece of theatre that evokes strong emotions. Untitled F*ck M*SS S**gon Play runs in the Royal Exchange until the 16th of July.  

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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