The Shoplifters – play tackles social inequalities

The Shoplifters is a comedy,” says Agnes Tong, an actor in the play. “There are underlying political themes but it’s not a social activism play.”

The play will be going on tour across the lower mainland from Jan. 9–Feb. 9, 2020.

Art makes an impact

Art is a way to challenge systems and to challenge our norms,” says Tong.

An actor and dancer, Tong, originally from Ottawa, moved to Vancouver after getting accepted to Langara College’s Studio 58 for theatre.

Agnes Tong plays the character of Phyllis in The Shoplifters.
| Photo courtesy of Agnes Tong

Starting off in dance, she switched to acting after recognizing that dance was not a viable option for a long-term career due to its impact on her body.

Tong, who is first generation Chinese Canadian, says her parents questioned her pursuit of an artistic lifestyle.

“My parents very much believe in security and education and when they would ask me what my back up plan was, I’d say I didn’t have one,” she says. “If there’s a back up plan then I’m not fully focused on the plan, so I just took the risk into acting as another adventure and form in which I can express in.”

What are you worth?

The Shoplifters is a story about two low income women who steal from a grocery store by tucking two 16-ounce ribeye steaks under their dresses, explains Tong.

“I don’t think this play is promoting theft by any means, but it is a complex conversation about economic inequality and how that looks when society pigeonholes people into a certain class based on income or employment, race or gender,” she says.

After getting caught, the play’s two thieves are taken to a little break room at the back of the grocery store and are harshly interrogated by two security guards, says Tong. One of the security guards is an expert in his field while the other guard is a young, hot-headed, eager trainee, who will go to great lengths to do right by God.

Tong plays the role of Phyllis, a young woman who works coat check at a restaurant and is marginalized, economically challenged and lives in low income housing.

Her good friend Alma, who is a seasoned shoplifter, coerces Phyllis into stealing from the grocery store, which Phyllis has never done before, but becomes convinced to do so because it’s her birthday.

In The Shoplifters, theft is an act of resistance. | Photo courtesy of Arts Club

“Alma challenges Phyllis to celebrate herself, live large, grab at life and celebrate her birthday with these juicy 16-ounce steaks, which otherwise they would never be able to afford or entertain the idea of eating something so extravagant,” says Tong.

Although Phyllis is quite nervous about the repercussions of her actions and believes in Karma, Tong says she contemplates what her life is worth and maybe that she is taking some steaks from a corporation that may not even notice they’re gone.

Symbolism in art

Tong says The Shoplifters calls into question ethics that are based on institutions where right and wrong is black and white versus the ethics of people who are driven by their basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

“This play very much symbolises theft as an act of resistance against a system; it delves into conversations around personal morality and ethics,” says Tong.

The Shoplifters is presented to the audience in a way that is meant to start conversations around responsibilities and how people can take action against something that isn’t serving the collective.

The script for The Shoplifters, written and directed by Morris Panych, delivers a powerful message in a hilarious way, says Tong.

“Once you see something a few times it kind of loses its humour, but watching this show over and over again still just tickles me and makes me laugh,” she adds.

For more information and tickets, please visit