The Apology – Arcola Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Kyo Choi

Director: Ria Parry

Set in the 1990s, The Apology follows a human rights lawyer uncovering the truth about the military sexual slavery that took place in South Korea under the Japanese occupation in the Second World War. Known as comfort girls, young women were forced into becoming sex slaves for the Japanese army. Kyo Choi’s gripping play explores this chilling history and the fight for an official apology.

On a stage papered with the pages of official documents, Priyanka Silva arrives in Seoul to take down the testimony of the first woman to come forward and admit that she was forced into sexual slavery. Other women have felt too ashamed to reveal their pasts in the comfort stations. Sun-Hee believed that she was volunteering for nursing training when she left home during the war. Instead she was taken to a house where she remained for two years. She describes the lines of soldiers outside the comfort station where privates were allowed 30 minutes with the women while officers were given an hour. The women were raped continually.

The scenes between Silva and Sun-Hee prove to the most tense of the evening. As the lawyer, Sharan Phull is full of modern optimism that the world could be a better place, trusting in the bureaucracy that comes with it. As first, Sun-Hee wants a quicker result, but Sarah Lam is able to imbue her character with a patient dignity. Both actors give riveting performances as they sit on either side of a table.

Another effective pairing is that between a daughter and her father. Yuna, an airline steward, is nearing 50 while her father is newly agitated about the news on the TV. When they come together to remember Yuna’s mother who died 40 years previously, Yuna breaks down recollecting that her mother never really loved her. As the father, Kwong Loke gives an extraordinarily good performance, visibly burdened with the secrets of the dead and the guilt of the living. Minhee-Yeo does well with a thinly written role, and is able to exhibit the stillness of a presumably single life. Their scenes together are played on a knife-edge.

The second half of the play is not as tight as the first and a few unnecessary coincidences mar the presentation of these stories that the world has been too eager to forget. This world, or at least the male dominated one of politics, is represented by American diplomat Jock, who suggests to Silva that she let sleeping dogs lie. Ross Armstrong does his best with the character, but Jock’s smarmy sexism and paranoia feels a little too simple.

In the main Ria Parry’s direction and TK Hay’s set are pleasingly stripped back, but there are some sight issues for one side of the audience who simply cannot see past one of the Arcola’s pillars for the few scenes played on the upper platform. However, this does not distract from the strong performances and the distressing story that was hidden from the world for so long. These days it’s rare to see such serious plays, but The Apology is a rare play.

Runs until 8 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A rare play

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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