White Pearl: New play explores racism and its influence on attitudes to beauty

White Pearl focuses on a start-up business in Singapore which encounters a PR crisis (Pic credit: Helen Murray)
White Pearl focuses on a start-up business in Singapore which encounters a PR crisis (Pic credit: Helen Murray)


A NEW “darkly funny” play on institutional racism in the workplace is due to premiere at a top London theatre this week.

White Pearl is centred on a successful start-up business in Singapore that is gearing up to launch a beauty product.

However, drama ensures as the advertising campaign gets leaked and sparks a public relations disaster.

Farzana Dua Elahe plays the role of Priya, the CEO of Clearday™. Her character is one of a group of multi-cultural women who make up the dynamics of the business. As the crisis unfolds, the audience is witness to the level of multicultural racism in the confines of the office environment.

Described as a “satire on racism”, the dark comedy analyses the relationships between the women and the language they use to refer to various cultures and races.

Talking about the themes in the play, Elahe, from London, told Eastern Eye: “It looks at racism in terms of what is crossing the line and what are the boundaries.

Farzana Dua Elahe plays the role of Priya, the CEO of Clearday™ in the play

“Just because you don’t use derogatory language and you are PC (politically correct) about it, you may still have a different opinion on a culture or race. Does that mean you’re racist
because you’ve been PC about it?”

Many of the characters are depicted as originating from south Asia, although Elahe explained that many grew up in westernised cultures. Her character, for example, was born in India, but was educated in the UK.

Another character was born in Thailand and grew up in the US.

“There are many iterations of being born (in Asia), having an upbringing elsewhere and then coming back with a westernised eye and seeing how those things collide,” she said.

Elahe, whose co-stars include Bad Education’s Kae Alexander and Harry Potter star Katie Leung, said it was a refreshing experience to work with a multicultural cast.

The play also taught her about the consumer industry today and how much the beauty industry affects women, she revealed.

Some of the products which Clearday™ market are controversial – skin whitening cream being one of the more common. Such products are popular in India and China, among
other countries, where there is a preference for light-skinned complexions.

(L-R) Momo Yeu, Farzana Dua Elahe, Minhee Yeo and Kanako Nakano in rehearsals for White Pearl

They are also in demand in parts of the UK, with many creams and serums being sold online or in low-key independent beauty stores.

Elahe admitted she found them problematic.

“I feel like in some parts of the world, the whiter you are, the purer or wealthier you are seen to be,” she said. “It is down to the desire and preconceptions of what is beautiful, and I think it is quite sad.”

The power of social media has a large influence on the beauty industry, Elahe added, as it targets women, telling them how to look.

The actress, who has had starring roles in The Hundred-Foot Journey and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, said she had definitely felt pressure to “look a certain way”.

Social media platforms such as Instagram or fashion magazines with depictions of ‘beautiful’ women could be triggers for women who feel they need to change, she explained.

“It is very disruptive that we are constantly told these things about appearance,” she said. “We need to be kinder to ourselves. I’m only human and if I want to do something fun, like eating chocolate, I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about it.”

Talking about White Pearl, Elahe said although she did not want anyone to feel they
were being taught the “right or wrong way to think”, she hoped the play sparked discussions
on issues such as prejudice and racism.

She also believed many people would be able to identify with the characters.

“It isn’t just your typical office-drama with the same tone… It is really colourful, even though it is about whiteness,” she joked. “It is really full of life.”

White Pearl is being staged at the Royal Court Theatre from Friday (10) until June 15.