What happens when you return to your native country as a foreigner? In-Sook Chappell’s award winning This Isn’t Romance at the Soho theatre explores the darker side of cross-cultural adoption and the devastating effects returning home can have.
Having made the pilgrimage from her Essex home to her birth place in Korea, Miso Blake finds herself face to face with the brother she left behind, but unable to look him in the eyes. After leaving Han on a street corner at the age of seven and disappearing to the Western world, the guilt Miso has been forced to live with has made her cold and detached, constantly looking to money and men as a way of achieving acceptance and love.
Arriving on Han’s doorstep after a failed first attempt at meeting, the two are reunited in an angry, violent exchange which quickly turns sexual as they express how they feel about one another in the only way they know how. Looking at one another, they recognise familiarity for the first time in 25 years, and unable to cope with the intensity of their emotions, their relationship quickly takes them down a path Miso could never have expected. But Miso’s abandonment has caused permanent damage and as revelations regarding Han’s past unfold, Miso’s debt becomes unavoidable with the realisation that her comfortable existence in Britain was a world away from the life her brother was left to deal with alone.
Chappell’s running themes of money, beauty and betrayal become twisted together as each are shown to be inextricably linked in the characters’ minds. Man about town and hotel proprietor Jack Cash (Matthew Marsh) is entranced by Miso’s beauty and confidence, but can only attract her with money, which she ultimately blackmails him for. Money is the only route for forgiveness between Miso and Han, the emotionally ignorant pair believing it is the only source of happiness. Characters instantly recognise wealth when they see it; a flash of the red soles of Miso’s Christian Louboutin shoes or the padlock on her Chloe bag reveals her extravagance.
The foreignness of the country is accentuated by Korean-style minimalist screens framing the stage on which videos of Hello Kitty, neon street signs and Korean models are projected – a land of fantasies and plastic providing the backdrop for the characters’ pain. Otherwise the set is left relatively bare, but for Han’s scruffy mattress which proves to be a symbol of the siblings’ confused relationship.
Han and Miso are both cruel and violently angry, yet when they are with one another their vulnerability reveals the children that lie beneath their hardened exterior for the first time. This Isn’t Romance is not easy viewing, but the emotional and physical struggle between the estranged siblings is engrossing and heart wrenching in equal measures.