Yangson Project, South Korea’s rising stars, combine physical theatre, visceral sound and spoken word to tell their adaptation of Factory Girls, originally written in 1931 by Chin-O Yu. Produced by Farnham Maltings, this is Yangson Project’s first UK tour, after touring widely in South Korea, China and France.
Set when Korea were under the Japanese rule in the 1930’s, the play follows Oksun, an 18-year-old girl working in a textile factory amidst the Korean industrial boom. The factory girls are terrified their pay is going to be cut again by their Japanese director, Tanaka. Tanaka targets Oksun, whose father is unwell and cannot support the family, and gives her a bonus on the condition that she betrays her friend. Oksun finds that the factory girls are deliberating about the repressive conditions and want to unite the factory girls for a labour strike.
With a bare stage, we follow a series of physical motifs that represent the hard work endured in an eleven-and-a-half-hourday in the factory. The cast’s unison and eloquence is effortless to watch. One of the most memorable motif’s is their lunchtime, with an uncouth assortment of consumption sounds, a time where the gossip spreads but their freedom is still restricted.
Upon telling Tanaka of the factory girl’s conversation, Oksun is unfairly overpowered by her Japanese director. This physical motif is followed with a vicious mantra of “insert, spin, pull” but this time cleverly used to exemplify Tanaka’s horrifying actions in sexually abusing, young girl, Oksun. A beautifully elegant, yet heart-breaking performance from Oksun follows. It is impossible to take your eyes off her every move as we follow her body through the pain.
Yangson Project’s strong ensemble bring the words of the play to life; their use of narrative acting is almost poetic, matching their rhythmic style. The moments of storytelling enhance our understanding of the feelings behind each character. The cast captures the play’s humanity perfectly. Although Factory Girls is very particular to a place and time, a place that I did not know much of, we resonate with the girls as if we know the same.
Factory Girls has been skilfully crafted together, not only to tell the story of one girl Oksun, but to reflect the entire era and oppression of the Japanese colonial rule over the Korean’s. A refreshing new piece of theatre for the UK, with talented performers and detailed direction, from Ji Hye Park. - Holly Kellingray