Edinburgh Fringe 2019
We are in the tea room that used to belong to the Counsellor’s dead wife, waiting for a new client. But there is only coffee. The record on the turntable makes no noise; the phone rings silently. Black and White Tea Room is a clever piece of writing, nicely realised and quietly unsettling.
Black and White Tearoom, was originally written (and directed) by Cha Kyun-Suk in Korean, and set against the backdrop of South Korea’s change from dictatorship to democracy. In this production it is set in Britain, the tell-tale reference to that old BT advert (“It’s good to talk”) and a stack of 80s vinyl giving us the clues. There remain hints of another culture, or perhaps another time – references to a time of riots and interrogations; one particular prop that is decidedly East Asian – but these intrigue rather than distract.
We are in the tea room that used to belong to the Counsellor’s dead wife, waiting for a new client. But there is only coffee. There are odd sound effects – the record on the turntable makes no noise; the phone rings silently. It’s a very clever touch.
The lighting and staging works well too, in particular the audience standing in for a huge imagined fish tank that has an important role to play in a witty – if a little predictable – move towards the end of the play.
The piece has an air of mystery; a hint of Pinter as the characters (Nicholas Collett as the Counsellor and Patrick Miller as his ‘guest’) size each other up and start their slow dance of power. Hyun-Suk’s direction here is clear and tight. There is a whiff of parody of the counselling process. (In Korea counselling often takes place in tea rooms). There is a lot of talk about trust. Tension builds.
And then the characters’ past connection is revealed, and suddenly the dynamic switches. The set up makes sense. The drama peaks.
As the Guest, Miller drives the transition, and balances a lovely blend of fragility and rage. But ultimately it is Collett’s Counsellor who has control. His character is the more complex, and Collett’s neat playing of reserve and ambiguity works best when the script is about subtext rather than didacticism.
Intimacy is important in this piece. Listening vital. So it was an ironic and unfortunate peice of programming that put it next to the room in which My Leonard Cohen was blaring. Credit to the actors for not allowing this to faze them. And it did result in a bizarre moment when Collett’s yelling of a Bob Dylan song seemed an appropriate response.
Black and White Tea Room is a clever piece of writing, nicely realised and quietly unsettling.
It runs until 25 August at 18.20 in The Drawing Room at the Assembly Rooms.