Kim’s Convenience review (Park Theatre)

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★★★★

The critically acclaimed Netflix show Kim’s Convenience started out as a play by Ins Choi, who actually lived above his Uncle’s convenience store in Toronto as a child. Focusing on family relationships and contrasting generational values, this January and February the playwright is starring as the fictional Mr Kim in the UK premiere of the show, 11 years after originating the role of son Jung Kim at the Toronto Fringe. With direction by Esther Jun (the original Janet Kim), I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review the show last night at the Park Theatre, which is the home of Kim’s Convenience for its UK run.

Kim's Convenience programme inside the Park Theatre auditorium, London

About the play

Before I begin, I think it’s important to mention that I haven’t seen the Netflix programme, but you don’t need to have watched the TV adaptation to appreciate the show’s charm. The play follows the Kim family, who run the Regent’s Park neighbourhood store ‘Kim’s Convenience’ in Toronto. Appa/Mr Kim (Choi) is the patriarch of the family and is constantly at loggerheads with daughter Janet (Jennifer Kim) over what she should be doing with her life. Umma/Mrs Kim (Namju Go) is keen for her daughter to get married and settle down, as well as reconnect with their estranged son Jung (Brian Law). Parental expectations, differences in opinions and family beliefs are at the heart of the play, which looks at holding onto East Asian heritage in modern day Canada.

My ticket for Kim's Convenience at Park Theatre, London

Vibrant set design

Mona Camille has created a colourful corner shop set that instantly draws you in, thanks to its neighbourly feel. The bright hues and familiarity of the branded products make you feel at home, providing a sense of comfort that you don’t get in large supermarkets. At first glance the stage feels like every local corner shop, but when you look closer, you can’t help but notice the little nuances to the principal characters. At the back there is a shelf of family photos, a religious cross and South Korean and Canadian flags. It cements the idea that this is a shop for the community and brings with it years of stories and experiences.

Theming and fluidity

Whilst the play is largely a comedy, it has defined moments of sincerity and reflection. The changes in the theming make the piece feel a little disjointed in places, exacerbated by the static convenience store set still being visible from the Circle, even with dimmed lighting. As much as I like the bold style of the backdrop, using a fixed set means that you are limited in how you can recreate alternate locations. Consequently, there are a couple of scenes where it is difficult to visually picture where the characters are, with the packed shelves still positioned behind them.

© Mark Douet

Comedy and language

The script uses language creatively, linking the mispronunciation of English words with a Korean accent to similar sounding humorous English phrases. Dialogue coach Rebecca Clark Carey has done a fantastic job in facilitating the performers to make these language mishaps believable.

The witty writing is clever, fast-paced and subtle, taking time to grow into the punchlines. Choi delivers these with great energy, within the realms of the disgruntled Mr Kim. I found myself laughing uncontrollably at times, thanks to the main character’s intriguing philosophies about life.

Ins Choi (Appa) and Jennifer Kim (Janet) in Kim's Convenience at the Park Theatre, London. Photo by Mark Douet
© Mark Douet

Cast performances and character relationships

The five-strong cast offers exceptional cast performances, spearheaded by Choi and Jennifer Kim. Their father-daughter relationship is absolutely hilarious, most notably when the characters argue about her unpaid work at the shop. This reaches a whole new level of hilarity with the appearance of Alex (Janet’s potential love interest, Miles Mitchell). Mr Kim interviews Alex and this complicated situation reaches peak embarrassment for Janet, leaving the audience in fits of laughter.

Jennifer Kim (Janet), Ins Choi (Appa) and Miles Mitchell (Alex), Kim's Convenience at the Park Theatre, London. Photo by Mark Douet
© Mark Douet

I only wish the material had been longer to allow for greater development of the other character relationships, specifically that of Jung and Mr Kim. 80 minutes is a limited amount of time to cover complex family dynamics and I was left longing for more insight into the upbringing of the Kim children.

A timeless story of family, identity and belonging

A charming comedy about family and staying connected to your roots, Kim’s Convenience is a short but sweet play that every family can relate to. Esther Jun’s vision transforms the venue, taking audiences away from Finsbury Park and transporting them to metropolitan Canada. In terms of East Asian representation, the show provides a fascinating insight into Korean culture and values, as well as what it means to emigrate away from the land that you know and raise your family in a totally different place. Performances run at Park Theatre until Saturday 10th February and you don’t want to miss it.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for Kim’s Convenience was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.

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