January 6, 2016 / 8:51 PM / 3 years ago

West London theatre raises the curtain on the Hermit Kingdom

Visitors walk past a maze which had been set up in Trafalgar Square to promote London's West End shopping and entertainment district in 2010. The Finborough Theatre is located off the famous district REUTERS/Andrew Winning

LONDON (Reuters) - The Finborough Theatre, a tiny off-West End stage tucked away above a pub, has built its reputation on innovative new writing and on occasions has a knack for seizing highly topical issues for its plays.

Still, even the award-winning theatre could not have planned to open In-Sook Chappell’s “P’yongyang” on the day its subject - isolated and idiosyncratic North Korea - would grab global headlines by announcing its first hydrogen bomb test.[L3N14Q2DH]

Chappell, born in South Korea and brought up in Britain, doesn’t directly touch on North Korea’s nuclear tests. But she takes us behind its regimented displays of military might into the suffering of citizens who have lived through decades of international sanctions, isolation and malnutrition.

She was inspired to write the play after visiting the eerie Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and hearing accounts from North Korean refugees of the starvation and brutal treatment they had endured.

Founded in 1980, the Finborough Theatre in West London has nurtured talents including actress Rachel Weisz and Laura Wade, who shot to fame as the writer of Posh, which shone a spotlight on Prime Minister David Cameron’s decadent, privileged student past.

To try to make her difficult subject accessible to a Western audience, Chappell said she decided to root it in “a very simple love story” between a hero and heroine wrenched apart by the North Korean regime.

The Finborough Theatre typically rejects scripts based on conventional love stories as too hackneyed, but it made an exception for a play that uses a romance as a way into a deeper political drama.

“I want people to be entertained. I want people to hear stories they have not been told before. I want them to be moved, but I guess I want them to question how this is allowed to continue,” Chappell said.

It’s a question behind the latest headlines as the world wonders whether the huge explosive Pyongyang fired off really was an H-bomb - the United States government and several experts doubt that - and why it chose to hold an atomic test now.

Editing by Tom Heneghan

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