I’m Just Here To Buy Soy Sauce
Pokfulam Rd Productions
Camden People's Theatre
A few years ago, Chinese government censorship of social media provoked exasperated users to start adding the cynical tag line of "I’m Just Here To Buy Soy Sauce". Jingan Young turns the phrase into the title of a play set in London where Chinese investors buy property as an investment with as little trouble as if they were buying soy sauce.
The show shifts backwards and forwards between estate agents preparing a massive sale and these same characters as a South London couple at a much later period mulling over the accommodation difficulties they feel damaged their relationship.
The character Freddie Reynolds, (Robert Bradley) the newly appointed junior associate at Avarita Global Worldwide International Properties Limited, is taken through his duties by his abusive and bullying supervisor Cassandra Wu (Joyce Vaheary). She tells him their task is to discourage general buyers in favour of making one huge sale to Chinese investors.
Freddie is initially horrified at the unethical nature of their activities, but soon sees it as a way of making the money he needs to get out of his own housing difficulties. For Cassandra, there is only drunken disillusion and redundancy.
Robert Bradley brings a warm humour to the character of Freddie whether he is batting away insults from his supervisor or playfully dropping socks onto the head of his girlfriend. He has fine comic timing and such control on the rhythm of the language spoken that an audience would want to listen to anything he said.
In 2015, the value of the Chinese currency fell, the economy slowed and the stock market was in difficulties. This could only encourage further Chinese billions to compete for the safe investment haven of London property and that would be bad news for the housing prospects of ordinary people. Unfortunately, the referencing of Chinese investment in this play seems more of a framing device to give the characters a context rather than an active element of the plot.
It is also difficult to believe in the way things develop between the characters of the play. The estate agents section of the play shows the charismatic Freddie heading off in a different direction than his deeply troubled and bullying supervisor Cassandra. But in the South London scenes, they have had a relationship and there’s no explanation of what happened in between.
The Cassandra we meet in South London seems a totally different person from the bullying supervisor. But since neither of them mentions an earlier experience as estate agents, audience members might have wondered if in fact they were perhaps supposed to be entirely different characters.
This is a play with some humour that references serious issues. Unfortunately it raises more questions about its own construction than about the society in which we live.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna