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Kim’s Convenience sets up shop on London stage

Canadian play Kim's Convenience, making its European debut in London, is packing in delighted theatregoers with its heart and charm.

Canadian play set in Toronto packing in theatregoers during European debut

A woman with dark hair in a ponytail, wearing a pink cardigan, smiles as she stands beside a a man with grey hair and a beard, wearing glasses and a brown vest and a brown plaid shirt.

Theatregoers bundled themselves in scarves and woolly hats in the foyer of Park Theatre in north London, preparing for the brisk January air after just taking in a matinee showing of Kim's Convenience, the well-loved Canadian play-turned-television series making its European debut.

"It was wonderful! Well done, you two!" A woman shouted over the hiss of cappuccinos being prepared in the lobby café, as two cast members emerged bearing props. "We all need a bit of forgiveness in this world, and it was just so nice to see."

Forgiveness, family and confection are just a few of the myriad themes that bind Korean Canadian Ins Choi's 80-minute play, which opened at the theatre on Jan. 8.

The plot centres on a convenience store in Toronto's Moss Park neighbourhood owned and operated by the Kim family and run primarily by its patriarch, Appa (Korean for "father") — who is played by Choi in the London production.

Kim's Convenience began its life at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011, where it garnered critical and commercial success, before going on tour (including an Off-Broadway stint in New York City) and subsequently a five-season series on CBC Television.

A young man with black hair, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt with dark stripes, puts up a poster on a pole.

"It's basically the immigrant story of a family and parents who want to displace themselves for the betterment of their family," said Adam Blanshay, the show's producer.

A self-proclaimed "super fan" of the television series, Blanshay said once he discovered the show was based on a play, he reached out to playwright Choi to discuss the possibility of bringing Kim's Convenience to London.

"I felt the play would make a real impact and be exactly what London audiences would need," said Blanshay, who was born and raised in Montreal but now lives in London.

Judging by the reaction of critics and audiences so far, it seems Blanshay was right.

A man with dark hair, wearing a purple sweater, stands near the stage for a play.

'Universal struggles' depicted in play

According to Park Theatre's head of ticketing, almost every performance in its more than four-week run is completely sold out, and Kim's Convenience is on track to be one of the best-selling shows in the venue's 11-year history.

"I always think of London, U.K., as ahead of the theatre game, and it didn't really ever strike me that perhaps when it comes to East Asian representation, they were actually a little bit behind," said the play's director, Esther Jun.

Speaking over Zoom from her home in Toronto, Jun told CBC News that the reaction to the show in London has been similar to when Kim's Convenience first premiered over a decade ago. Jun was also involved in that production, but as Appa's photographer daughter, Janet.

She said the East Asian community in London has been "so welcoming and open with their own struggles."

People stand on a subway platform adorned with posters.

One audience member said she was gripped and even inspired by the story. Pernilla Iggstrom, 54, who was born in Korea but raised in Sweden, said she came to the show to learn more about her roots.

"It was very emotional," said Iggstrom, who works as a painter. "It was so on point and something I think applies to a lot of different cultures when you're second generation."

This sentiment was echoed by Jun, who identifies as Korean Canadian.

"Audience members, regardless of their background, can focus on the similarities between themselves and the Kim family and not the differences," the director said.

"We just present the Kim family as Korean. It's not like we're trying to explain our culture within the show; that's not what the show is actually about. There's much more universal struggles, and that's why I think the show has translated so well into different communities."

For recent design graduate Lucia Kang, it was the Canadian nature of the show that drew her in.

A young woman with dark hair, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt that says "Canada" across the front, stands in a cafe.

"I loved it. It made me very nostalgic," said Kang, 22, who is Chinese Canadian and was born in Toronto. She said the locational references in the script stirred up many memories, but none more so than the gleaming yellow packaging of the Coffee Crisp for sale in Appa's store.

"I really wanted to ask if I could eat the set after they ended," she laughed.

A taste of Canadiana

The detailed set is a central character in its own right, with its faux-linoleum checkered floor and fully stocked shelves.

Premium saltines, ketchup chips and even bagged milk are featured in Mona Camille's design, which the chief theatre critic for the Times, Clive Davis, said is like "seeing a corner of Toronto brought to life."

A true communal effort, the set decoration was made possible by friends and family back home in Canada buying mountains of Canadian-specific goodies — including Oh Henry! and Big Turk chocolate bars and Glosette candy — only to carefully remove the contents and ship bundles of empty packages to Britain to be refilled with stuffing, producer Blanshay said.

They even made a special request of staff at Canada's High Commission in London to store the packaging of any Canadian products that were brought back after a trip to Canada.

The set worked its magic for cast members, too, said Brian Law, who plays the role of Appa's estranged son, Jung.

A proud Torontonian, Law has lived in the U.K. for 10 years and said he was excited to "finally" get to use his own accent in a production — although he admits the dialect coach needed to train a bit more "Canadian-ness" into his manner of speaking after being away from home for so long.

WATCH | On the London set of Kim's Convenience with actor Brian Law:

On stage with Kim's Convenience

12 hours ago

Duration 1:01

Actor Brian Law, one of the stars of the London stage production of Kim’s Convenience, gives a tour of the set and highlights a few quintessential Canadian snacks on display.

"Coming here and working with Canadians, working 'in Toronto,' really made me more proud of who I am, my own story," Law said. "And I really hope that everyone feels that … that their story is important."

Whether the story of Appa and his family will continue to charm European audiences after the run at Park Theatre ends on Feb. 10 is unknown.

Jun, the director, said the play might continue touring back in Canada, although nothing is confirmed.

"Fingers crossed that Kim's can continue, just a little bit longer," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Sproule

Associate Producer

Lauren is an associate producer based in the CBC News London bureau.

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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