Edinburgh Fringe visit: Kkumdongi Puppet Theater — Climb a Willow to the Sea God’s Palace

The two brothers play in a river
The two brothers play in a river

A strange title for a tale of brotherly love and filial piety, and a storyline which is a little hard to follow, but a show which is a treat for the eyes.

A skilled painter filled in some of the story between scenes
A skilled painter filled in some of the story between scenes

The story is told in four ways: you have an English translation of the script in the programme (if you have a chance to read it beforehand); an English synopsis on a screen to the left of the stage which was unfortunately so dim as to be illegible; but in between scenes a skilled artist painted a scene on a large sheet of hanji illuminated from behind by a spotlight (the artist consequently had to be skilled in backwards calligraphy, as the first painting had the title of the play painted on it); and of course the main event itself: stuffed puppets manipulated by voiceover artists who spoke the characters’ words as well as moving them around the tabletop stage.

Too late: father's dead already
Too late: father’s dead already

Two brothers play in the countryside hunting for herbs to cure their ailing father, but they are so long in gathering the medicine that their father is dead by the time they return home. The father appears to them – presumably in a dream – with a strange burial request. The younger son wants to honour this request, while the elder son decides on a more conventional burial. Should the younger brother try to follow his father’s wishes, or obey his elder brother?

A very cute cow appeared from nowhere
A very cute cow appeared from nowhere

The play is utterly charming, and it does not really matter that you cannot figure out what is going on – Maybe I missed it, but I never saw anyone climb a willow tree to a sea god’s palace. When the brothers found the medicinal herbs, I could have sworn that the voiceover artist said “seed”. I was therefore waiting for the seed to be planted and a Jack and the Beanstalk style story to ensue. This misapprehension was reinforced by the appearance on stage of a very cute cow with meltingly large eyes. But I later realised, on reading the script, that the cow was in fact a reincarnation of the elder brother, who had mysteriously died.

Oh well. It was nevertheless an altogether delightful way to spend 45 minutes.

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