by Lynn on February 7, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Park Theatre, London, England.  Adam Blanshay Productions and Park Theatre present the European premiere of Kim’s Convenience. Plays until Feb. 10, 2024.

Written by Ins Choi

Directed by Esther Jun

Set and costumes by Mona Camille

Lighting by Jonathan Chan

Sound and composer, Adrienne Quartly

Cast: Ins Choi

Namju Go

Jennifer Kim

Brian Law

Miles Mitchell

This production is the most moving of all of the productions of it I’ve seen over the 13 years. Perhaps it was because I was seeing it in London and was so happy for its success. Or perhaps it was because the performances just affected me in a deeper way. In any case it’s full of the beating heart of the play. The cast is fine with Ins Choi giving stellar performance as Appa (Mr. Kim).

Background. Kim’s Convenience is Ins Choi’s first play. It’s the little play that could. It started at the Toronto Fringe Festival to great acclaim. It was picked up by Soulpepper and given a real production. It became a tv series and ran for several years. Netflix picked it up. There have been productions across Canada. And now it’s in London, England.

The play is a bittersweet immigrant story; of trying to fit in to a new life but still honouring the traditions of one’s culture; of love and forgiveness.

The Story. Mr. Kim (‘Appa’ in the programme, means ‘Father’ in Korean) has owned and operated his convenience store for 30 years. He is thinking of passing it on to his daughter Janet to run. When she was a kid she helped often in the store, while also going to school to be a photographer. That is where her heart is—to be a photographer. She is now 30 years old, lives at home above the store and is indeed a photographer.

There is a son, Jung but he’s estranged from his father and they haven’t talked in a long time. Jung talks to his mother, (‘Umma’ in Korean), often going to church with her. He regrets the rift with his father and longs to come home.  

The Production. The 200 seat Park Theatre, in London, England, is a very intimate space. The audience sits on three sides around the stage.  This means that designer Mona Camille has to suggest what a Canadian convenience store looks like because having the aisles of shelves full of snacks, canned goods etc. wouldn’t work. The shelves would have blocked off various areas of the audience depending on where they were sitting.

There is a huge poster of an ice-cream drumstick on the wall. There are posters for LOTO 649. Various kinds of potato chips only sold in Canada are arranged on a shelf on the back wall: Pringles, Lays, Doritos etc. There are tubs of Korean noodle soups also on the back wall. I was told that the Canadian snacks had to be brought over to London for the show.  A cash counter is in the center of the space with gums, mints and chocolate bars in the front of it. A cash register is in the center of the counter. There is an aisle stage left and right for entrances of characters. There is no door to the store but when a character enters, at a certain point in the aisle entrance, there is a sound effect indicating a customer has come through the door.

When Mr. Kim-Appa (I’ll refer to him this way since he’s referred to by both names depending on whom he is speaking to) opens the store at 7 am Ins Choi as Mr. Kim-Appa enters from the back where the family apartment is. Ins Choi as Mr. Kim–Appa is grey-haired has a thin beard, walks slowly—he wears sandals, socks, a work shirt and jeans.  He sets out the lottery tickets and makes a cup of coffee using more sugar than a human should use for a cup of coffee. Director Esther Jun knows how to set up a visual joke beautifully and Ins Choi as Mr. Kim-Appa knows how to milk it. He opens a pack of sugar and holds it high over the cup and then adds more sugar from a dispenser, held even higher. This scene takes plenty of time to establish who Mr. Kim-Appa is.

I saw Ins Choi play Mr. Kim-Appa at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. To see him play the part in London, England creates a whole different vibe for some reason. Maybe it’s being with a British audience who have no idea of what this play means to those who have seen it, or perhaps they are familiar with the Netflix series, in any case I was aware of how the audience was reacting. I was also aware that I was moved more often than I have ever been moved by this play before.

Ins Choi as Mr. Kim-Appa gives a beautifully paced, watchful performance. Mr. Kim-Appa seems angry and frustrated. He has a set idea of who will steal from his shop. He is particularly prickly, commanding relationship with his daughter Janet (Jennifer Kim). Janet does not want to be saddled with the store. She wants to be a photographer. Because Mr. Kim’s son Jung is estranged, that could also put a strain on Mr. Kim-Uppa’s relationship with Janet. As Janet, Jennifer Kim is as feisty as her father in various exchanges. She holds her ground, pushes back, lets him know she’s hurt and wants her own life. He wants her to know that he gave her everything she wanted. Most important, he asks “What is my story?” He says that she and her brother are his story, his legacy. And there are moments of heart-squeezing tenderness from Ins Choi.

Mr. Kim-Appa has watchful relationship with his customers. One gentleman, Mr. Lee (Miles Mitchell) who is described as a Black man with an Asian name wants to buy the store for re-development. Miles Mitchell plays all the Black characters in the play and he segues with ease from one to another. As Mr. Lee, the successful real estate agent, Miles Mitchell is suave, confident and prosperous looking in his tailored blue suit. As a Blackman from Jamaica, Miles Mitchell has the patois down and the fluid body language. As Alex, who was a school friend of Jung’s and is now a cop, he is disarming, charming, shy and respectful. Janet always had a crush on him. Alex never noticed her but does now that she’s grown up.  

Namju Go as Umma plays the quiet peace-maker in the family. She is burdened with the rift between her husband and her son. She is aware of the prickliness between her daughter and husband. She has to keep the peace for all of them. Both parents speak to each other in Korean. There is no need for a translation—we get the gist when there is reference to “Janet” etc. It’s the quiet banter of long-married husband and wife.

As Jung, Brian Law has a sweetness mixed with the guilt of what he did to cause the rift. He is trying to make amends. In a scene with Umma, Brian Law and Namju Go sit on a ledge with their backs to part of the audience. Namju Go as Umma is still but attentive to her son, Jung. He is comfortable in her presence and that’s in his body language too. Again, director Esther Jun directs a moving scene with the characters’ backs, having faith that the audience will ‘get it.’

When Jung comes home Brian Law is anxious about how his father will accept him. Ins Choi as Mr. Kim-Appa is surprised, guarded but open. When Jung he makes suggestions to his father about the store there is such longing in Brian Law’s performance. He has to win his that back and he does. Suddenly new possibilities arise for Mr. Kim-Appa and the future. And he is forgiving without having to say it.

Comment: This is a very intimate space. The whole cast is focused on each other and not distracted by the ambient sound of a British audience. You can clearly hear all the pops of opening cans of pop, rustling in potato chip bags, clinking of glasses of wine—bottles of wine are allowed in the theatre–and the loud ringing of a phone that probably can be heard in the street. All except for the ringing phone, the ambient noise was kept to a minimum. Such is the power of this wonderful production of Kim’s Convenience.

The Park Theatre Presents:

Opened: Jan. 8, 2024

I saw it: Feb. 2, 2024.

Plays until Feb. 10, 2024.

Running Time: 80 minutes (no intermission)

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Daniel Liebman February 8, 2024 at 11:10 am

Another lovely review, Lynn. I particularly like the way you write about the audience’s reaction and how it affected you. I saw the Soulpepper production, which made a lasting impression on me, perhaps because I have friends who run a convenience store. Thank you!