Spotlight: Orange Polar Bear at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Hi everyone!

I have something a little different today – I wanted to share my experience seeing a play recently. I have always wanted to see more theatre – my Royal Shakespeare Company discount card and loyalty card remain unused at the moment! This was a short-notice event for me but I don’t regret a second.

Orange Polar Bear is a play made in collaboration between British and Korean acting organisations, including The REP itself, the National Theater Company of Korea, Hanyong Theatre and Birmingham City University. It ran from the 1st-10th of November, and I saw some tweets a few days in and spontaneously decided to snap up some of the last few tickets for the 9th for myself and a friend. As both of us are interested in Korean culture, it was a great opportunity to act on our interests on a local scale.

Photo from The REP Website – I wish I could get my own copy of the promotional poster. This is beautiful and I’d love a memento for my wall.

It was my first time at the theatre. It’s wedged in between the Library of Birmingham and the ICC, and sometimes you can’t see it above all of the construction happening in the Paradise Circus area at the moment. Its also connected to the Library via the ground floor, where you can kill some time before or after a show… in the daytime, anyway – it closes early, unfortunately.

From this point, this review contains spoilers, although to my knowledge this play won’t be running any more, unfortunately.

The play is about two teenagers, William and Jiyoung in the UK and Korea respectively,  who are frustrated with their current lives, trying to navigate their personal lives while taking a peek at each others’. They express their worries and fears for the future both personally and on a bigger scale throughout the play. They feel distant from their lives as they live it, demonstrated by how they speak in the third person during their monologues.

The set was quite sparse, featuring a clean white background with doors and an upper platform, and clear perspex boxes used as seats and icebergs. We loved seeing projections of microwave contents and TV screens on the white doors, and the clean set allowed the play to move seamlessly between the UK and Korea and blend the two when needed.

William and Jiyoung. Rollers in my fringe was something I began to do only recently so Jiyoung was what I’d call a *big mood*. (from @OrangePolar18 on Twitter)

I found it interesting that all the supporting cast spoke their native language no matter what scenes (Korean or English language) they were in, adding to the bilingualism of the play and allowing audiences speaking either language to understand the other through context. My friend and I were a bit nervous about whether subtitles would be provided, and the answer was both yes and no. There were sections left entirely up to the context that we understood well regardless, with the help of the emotive cast.

Photo from the promotional Twitter for Orange Polar Bear, @OrangePolar18.

I was surprised to see school groups coming to see the play. In truth, it probably is a really interesting play for teenagers to watch especially as the main characters are also teens. Sometimes I wish my school had been more interested in promoting local theatre and experimental pieces like this. Not that I regret being able to see Hamlet live, but I wasn’t fully aware of the scope of theatre back then outside of Shakespeare, musicals and historically based pieces. Smaller pieces like this one, that take a chance of me stumbling upon them… those are what I’d like to see more of. I’ll have to keep my eyes open now.

Photo from the promotional Twitter for Orange Polar Bear, @OrangePolar18.

The plot itself was quite simple, yet also unexpected in the way it twisted and built up until the peak. As William and Jiyoung are almost always present on stage, aware of each other, we see what is happening to them as well as their reactions to each other’s lives. The duality of the plot helped to make it much more interesting. On a screen, I probably would not have thought twice before losing interest but in person, I got so immersed in it.

Also… I now totally stan Minju Kim and am looking forward to her future projects. The only issue being that it’s hard to Google her because there is a member of IZ*ONE with the same name! As Jiyoung, Minju Kim was so endearing and loveable. My friend and I agreed that the Korean cast, in particular, were fantastic. Cheongim Kang’s mini dance to Power Up by Red Velvet was a little fun alongside hearing Stormzy in the previous segment, like a musical trade. She switched between the role of idol schoolgirl Taehee and Jiyoung’s grandmother, two drastically different roles, so well! Ahron Hong’s performance as Jiyoung’s father was also really touching, and made me think of my own father and how he expresses himself.

That’s not to say the British cast weren’t also great. Rasaq Kukyoki and Tahirah Sharif had the audience invested in William and Sarah’s relationship – with what I could tell from the little gasps and laughs heard from behind me. Michael Kodwiw was less present, but this was not felt when we saw him as William’s friend Arthur and Sarah’s father. I only truly realised it now as I am typing.

Photo from the promotional Twitter for Orange Polar Bear, @OrangePolar18.

Overall, this was a beautiful, curious experience worth getting up earlier for. As a British Vietnamese young adult, I saw so much of my own experiences reflected in both the Korean and British portions of the play, in a strange way, and I think many others will also be able to relate to it, too. In the future, I’d love to see more collaborations between Birmingham theatre and theatre abroad, as well as more bilingual pieces.

Until next time,

X

My Experience at TEDxBrum 2017

Many of you will know what a TED talk is – a presentation of inspiring ideas and concepts by people from all sorts of fields. We watched many via Youtube whilst I was at school.

TED is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to sharing great ideas, and has spread worldwide in their commitment to this. The Birmingham-based event, TEDxBrum, which is annual and runs all day, aims to be just as grand and awe-inspiring yet locally relevant. It is independently organised by volunteers with the help of local sponsors.

Whilst tickets ranged from £25 (for Earlybird tickets) to £40, they do try to make the event as accessible as possible for everyone. The ticket was for the whole day including food and drinks, and you could pop in for only one particular session if you felt it. I was there for the whole day to get the most out of my ticket. If you couldn’t make it at all, it was all live streamed anyhow, and the talks will be going up onto Youtube in the upcoming weeks.

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This year, the theme was ‘Perspectives’ – the idea that everyone has a particular way of viewing the world and that civil conversation from many perspectives is important for growth and change. There was a huge range of topics covered and I wasn’t looking forward to anything in particular and just turned up with an open mind.

Florence Okoye speaking at TEDxBrum.

As an added plus they encouraged sharing the event live by tweeting and posting photos, and even let me use my DSLR so I was able to get some shots in. One person asked me if I was part of the crew – no, I was just looking for a good angle! The official photos taken by Thom Bartley, Curtis McNally and Paul Stringer are absolutely amazing and demonstrate both humbling and ambitious moments of the day – something I could certainly learn a lot from!

 

Lumi HD performing some of her songs.

 

(Unless stated otherwise, all photos are taken by me. I would appreciate credit to if you decide to use these photos, but it’s not necessary at all. I got a lot of extra fun and satisfaction just from being allowed to shoot!)

As it was my first time visiting the Hippodrome despite being a Birmingham local, I didn’t know what the auditorium looked like and end up in the lower circle. All the seats have a good view of the stage and the more important thing is that you could hear all the talks, to be honest. You were allowed to shift seats between breaks so I did eventually move down to the stalls in search of a good angle for my camera.

 

Bohdan Piasecki, a poet. He said something about teaching children to speak Polish in a Brummie accent, so I imagined it, and it made me laugh.

 

One of the most memorable talks from the day was definitely by Travis Alabanza, who was just dripping with strength and passion as he spoke about violence against non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals.

 

Travis Alabanza. A Warrior.

 

For me, the other most memorable part of the day were the performances from local music artists. These included DANS Chinese dancers (so this kid walks up onto stage and plays an intro piece and the whole crowd is awestruck and want to hug him), as well as The Dylema Collectiv (spoken word poetry against an mood setting musical backdrop) , singer/guitarist duo BEAR, Daps on the Map, and Lumi HD. There’s nothing like live music whether it is your genre or not. Especially in a venue like the Hippodrome, it manages to resonate with you anyway.

(You can double click for the full images!)

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DANS Chinese Dancers

 

 

The Dylema Collectiv

 

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BEAR performing some of their songs at TEDxBrum

 

In the breaks between sessions, you could socialise with other talk-goers, listen to poetry on the bottom floor, or talk to awkward artists on the second floor. I had a chat with Kenny Cowle about her photography – experimenting with the chemical processes involved with developing pictures to create fragile, constantly changing works of art.

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Me, chatting to Kenny Crowe about her work. Credit: Paul Stringer (Taken from the TEDxBrum Facebook Page)

I will be honest, my memory isn’t so great and there was so much awesome stuff to cram into my head so a lot of it didn’t stay for long, haha! This is what the YouTube videos are for, anyhow. I learnt a lot and laughed a lot and really really enjoyed myself, anyhow. Most importantly, I learnt a fair bit about Birmingham as a city, how it could be better, and what we can all do to play our part in its improvement.

 

TEDxTwentySwans lol

 

Needless to say, I will be sure to put aside the date in my diary for TedxBrum 2018.

Until next time,

X