THE APOLOGY | London, Arcola Theatre

This harrowing chamber play about the government-sanctioned, systematic rape of thousands of women, from all over east Asia, has a slow burn, but raises an important issue that is still far from common knowledge here in the UK.

In 2011, a “Statue of Peace” was erected in Seoul, to commemorate the thousandth “Wednesday Gathering” of women congregated in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest the sexual enslavement of girls and women by the Japanese military. “Comfort Women” is the euphemism the Japanese government used to refer to girls and women who were forced into what many now recognize as rape camps run for Japanese soldiers, beginning in 1932.

The clever, open-plan set design (TK Hay) sees this statue slowly constructed on stage, though the action throughout flips back and forth mainly between the humanitarian crimes of the 1940s and the eventual investigation by the UN in the 1990s. It also provides one of the play’s most harrowing moments, as a WWII rape victim (Jessie Baek) repeatedly stabs it, a symbol of her own inescapable trauma.

The exposing script (Kyo Choi) manages to cover an almost overwhelming global domain of historical abuse, using just six characters. The play is strongest at the few moments that abandon the grinding realism of investigative bureaucracy, for a more symbolic or metaphorical approach.

Playing at the Arcola Theatre 15 September – 8 October 2022.

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