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North Korea

Hong Kong play Vinalon casts an eye at a peculiarly North Korean industry

British journalist pens script on reclusive state’s ‘miracle’ textile

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 3:22pm

Theatre play Vinalon – named after the real-life industry of North Korea’s “miracle” synthetic fibre – will take to the stage at Fringe Club in Central this week, aiming to open a window into the country’s hermetic regime.

The English-language drama, written and directed by Hong Kong-based British journalist Rob McBride and presented by Not So Loud theatre company, comes shortly after news broke that a North Korean defected in Hong Kong at the end of July.

“I’ve always been fascinated – as many others have – with the subject North Korea,” McBride said. “I came across the subject of vinalon on a website specialising in North Korean news and I thought it was an obvious metaphor for the country.”

The play is set in a provincial textile factory’s propaganda department, responsible for promoting the myth of vinalon’s excellence, despite it being, McBride says, “by all accounts, not very good”.

It depicts the life of a group of office workers preparing for the plant’s grand reopening and dealing with a series of dramatic events.

McBride, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1992, at first thought of doing a documentary about the factory or offering to make a promotional video, he said, but while he was imagining the obstacles and challenges of that, a story started to emerge in his head.

Although he has never been to the country – the closest he got was the Yalu river, which separates North Korea from China – McBride used real facts and evidence from North Korean defectors to recreate reality.

The cast, which includes two Koreans, wear Mao suits and lapel pins of the Great and Dear Leaders.

Watch: A North Korean news report on vinalon

“It is a fictional drama, it has a plot… but I tried to make it as authentic as possible,” he said.

The main vinalon (also vinylon) factory was reopened in 2010 by North Korea’s late leader, Kim Jong-il.

“There are still a lot of propaganda videos and campaign material around on the internet, so it’s still very much being pushed by North Korea as a victory after the ‘arduous march’ famine of 1990s,” McBride said.

After the first characters were born in McBride’s imagination, it took him about six months to complete the script, he said.

Watch: the play’s trailer

China also gets a mention, being the source of smuggled contraband on trucks coming across border, as characters get access to banned products, like South Korean soap opera DVDs and cigarettes. “One of the main protagonists is eventually smuggled on a truck to China to avoid persecution,” he revealed.

In the play, which will run from September 7 to 10, China is perceived as “a place of salvation or refuge,” the director said.

“China is seen as a marvellous place with endless amounts of electricity and goods,” he said.

At the end of July, an 18-year-old North Korean, who was in Hong Kong to participate in a maths competition, sought refuge at the South Korean consulate. The student is understood to have left the city for South Korea. Sources told the Post he was likely to be settled in the United States in a few months.

It was reportedly the first time a North Korean defector sought protection in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover.