JUMP! Yegam Theatre at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre, till 10 May 2008
Winner ‘Comedy Award’ at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2006
Korean National Assembly ‘Grand Prize for Drama & Musical,’ 2006
BBC TV ‘The Royal Variety Performance,’ December 2006
Review by Grace Kim
To start with what everyone already knows, it’s pretty much impossible not to enjoy JUMP! even if you happen to be a sad old grouch sucking on rotten lemons all day. If you haven’t seen it already, and even if you have, take another look at this international smash hit Korean classic– before someone gets hurt!
“Don’t go to the cinema, don’t stay in and watch TV. Go and see the movie length Korean show Jump! and you’ll get a flying fistful of all you could ever want from the screen, right there on the stage. . .” The Guardian * * * *
“Jump mixes Korean martial arts, physical comedy and champion grade tumbling with a wink to soaps and a spoof of all things ethnic. . .There are also brilliant DIY sound effects, laugh-aloud tumbling and a hilarious cross-dressing of cultures. Did I say five stars? Make it 50.” Evening Standard * * * * *
A quick synopsis of the plot from the program notes, “. . . Jump is centred around a typical, but dramatically agile, Korean family – from the authoritarian grandfather, drunken uncle and karate chopping mother to the daughter’s incongruous suitor. Each member is a martial arts expert, possessing championship level Tae-Kwon-Do, Tae Kyun and gymnastics skills. . .What follows is an incredible display of acrobatic and martial arts skills, with a large amount of slapstick humour.”
At the interval, I asked my good-natured Irish husband, “So, what do you think of the show, so far?”
Seemingly terrified of his ferocious midget of a Korean wife, he replied tentatively, “Er. . really . .great. . .The acrobatics and fighting are. . . er. . .championship level.”
“Hmm. Do you find anything particularly Korean about it?”
“The family,” he said, somewhat ambiguously. (Am I that aggressive, I wondered. Yes, my father is a bit of an authoritarian grandfather figure!)
“Did anything surprise you?”
“The sense of humour.” This from a guy who smiles broadly or stifles a fit of laughter when I’m mid-torrent in a tornado of rage, he concluded nervously, “Oh, yes, I really enjoyed it.” What else could he say? Otherwise, I’d break his neck.
What makes JUMP! so particularly Korean are several ethnic characteristics, I have observed in my own family, upbringing and others. Like their food, Koreans have a certain INTENSITY, or a fullness of flavour, passion or drive in whatever they do. The sheer persistence of this intensity usually results in a wearing down of whatever stone wall or obstacles might lie in the path. Oh, how many times, have my Korean parents said, “Put your whole heart into it! Don’t quit!”
Likewise from the start of JUMP! to its very finish, this Korean intensity begins gradually with an old man in traditional dress and walking stick, stooping such that his bottom points directly and intimately at the audience. (But what well formed, muscular buttocks they were.) The Irishman next to me was looking undoubtedly uncomfortable and embarrassed. The vision of Yegam Theatre Company “is to challenge the performing arts industry with innovative ideas. Through martial arts, acrobatic stunts, dance and comic drama, JUMP depicts all aspects of the human body through comic drama.” It certainly achieves that and more. The show continues with the unrelenting physical intensity of the performance persisting, growing stronger and stronger until at last the cast members are literally climbing the walls and twirling 12 ft long fluorescent fighting sticks on a darkened stage at such a speed, it’s a wonder they haven’t decapitated each other yet.
Koreans generally possess a certain AUDACITY, a willingness to stick their necks out or to go out on a limb, perhaps, as an aspect of their intrinsically extreme or intense cultural personality. Boldness or bravery is much admired, and at home, we often heard the familiar, “Tiger in the house, mouse out of the house.” JUMP! is non-verbal in the extreme. Almost exasperatingly, infuriatingly– but most definitely AUDACIOUSLY SO. Yegam Inc. describes itself as “21st century performing arts ‘new topic, Non-verbal performance.'” Those accustomed to traditional Western theatre might lament, “For God’s sake, when are these people going to talk; just say something comprehensible at last!?” There is a lot of mime, pointing, grunting, screaming, shouting but just about the only verbalisation consists of a somewhat compulsive repetition of “Clean up!” or “Clean up the house!” The compulsion, speed and fury of the cleaning also struck me as inherently, comically Korean.
Another feature of JUMP! seems to be a certain adherence to ELITIST or EXCLUSIVE class, education or family structures. In Korean soap operas, the poor hero who is good and noble, raised by some sort of humble servant, cleaner or worker in the food service industry, surprise, surprise, actually, turns out to be the long lost son of a wealthy yangban turned successful industrialist. Traditionally, the family is an exclusive unit, no one comes in or out, unless through blood or marriage. The “normal” family of JUMP! comprises the tae kwon do elite, the gymnastic and acrobatic upper class, who clearly survive and thrive on competition, winning contests. Koreans believe that competition gains entry for the winner into the class of the elite or experts, thus demonstrated throughout the show in the relishing of the battle cry, “Contest!” (but only so far, as Koreans still demarcate others with the pejorative, “Peasant!”)
At the same time, there’s a certain NATURALNESS to JUMP!, the sense of humour seems unself-conscious, and the enjoyment of performing, genuine. Despite the extreme difficulty, precision, strength and stamina required by the two hour show, the cast appeared no less energetic and enthusiastic at the end of the show than the beginning. Koreans tend to be quite jolly or sociable in manner, or silent and stoical, but their nature is by and large manifest in their face or appearance.In Audacity, Intensity, Naturalness and Elitism– JUMP! is a uniquely Korean production despite its broad cultural references and international appeal. The biggest disappointment of the show was the fact that there were only a few Koreans in the audience. Some MORON behind me enthused happily, “You know, these CHINESE, they’re really clever!”
All Koreans and those interested in Korea, her people and culture should go out and see this show!
(And non-Koreans too – Ed)