5.0 out of 5.0 stars
Kim’s Convenience is the play that was the basis for the beloved Canadian sitcom of the same name. While we do have the series available on streaming services in the UK, this year sees the European premiere of the play, 13 years after its debut, at the Park Theatre in North London.
Kim’s Convenience revolves around the Kim family, Korean immigrant parents and their Canadian born children, inspired by playwright Ins Choi’s own family history and life. Canada saw a lot of Korean families settle, especially around Toronto, to seek a better life for their children. Many of these families opened convenience stores to support themselves. Choi grew up working in his family’s stores, which sparked the idea for the play, meant as a love letter to his family, and all first-generation immigrants who forged a new life in Canada.
The play happens exclusively inside the convenience store, set up on the sprawling stage with shelves filled to the brim with Canadian products. This setting reminded me so much of the years I’ve lived in Canada myself, especially seeing some of the products on the shelves! (someone send me Ruffles All Dressed please, I haven’t had any in a decade!!)
Mr. Kim, called Appa (Korean for Dad) by his family, runs the store, with Umma (Mum) spending most of her time in her church community. Their neighbourhood is being gentrified and the threat of a large Wal-Mart opening in the new apartment complex across the road looms large for the small family business. Daughter Janet is an aspiring photographer who absolutely does not want to take over the store, and son Jung left the family during his troubled teen years. Appa is offered a large sum of money for the store, but he holds on to the hope that his children might carry on his legacy that he built solely for them.
With Ins Choi playing Appa himself, it feels like a very personal performance. Part family drama, part sitcom, and completely and unapologetically Canadian, the play examines the friction and cultural differences between first generation immigrants and their children, while showing respect for the hard work and determination of the older generations.
Appa might not be the outwardly nicest person, but he cares very deeply about his community and tries to understand the changing times, while his children have their own struggles to deal with, all within a bustling store that has a variety of hilarious customer interactions along the way.
There is so much charm and humour in this story, it’s no wonder it ended up becoming a very beloved and successful television sitcom. A fantastic little play that is definitely worth a visit!