Modl Theatre Company is perhaps best known in this country for its work aimed at younger audiences, but it is a diverse company which also engages with more adult material too. And you can’t get much more adult than a graphic description of the surgical procedure that the Japanese forced upon young Korean girls so that they could physically accommodate adult males in the military sexual slavery that was their fate, or the procedures adopted to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This was definitely adult material, and made for uncomfortable theatre. It could have got too much, but the context in which the story unfolded somehow made the truths more palatable as we share the shock with members of the cast who are hearing them for the first time.
A young orphaned Burmese girl was adopted by a former Korean Comfort Woman, abandoned in Myanmar at the end of the War and unable to have children of her own. The Korean passes away in old age, but not before telling her Burmese daughter the name of her Korean parents and her home town, and details of how she came to be in Myanmar. The Burmese girl takes her ashes back to Korea so that she can receive funeral rites from her own family.
One of the more moving aspects of the production is that throughout the 45 minutes of stage time a young Korean girl of twelve sits under the funeral altar, representing the mother at the age at which she was abducted by the Japanese. Most of the dialogue is in Korean, but to help the English-speaking audience the Burmese woman speaks in English and has her words translated into Korean for the benefit of the family members attending the funeral.
Among the mourners is the village simpleton who is cavorting around on stage as the audience enters. Her presence feels somewhat incongruous, distracting from the message of the story. She does however have the uncanny insight to sing Arirang, which happens to be the favourite song of the deceased comfort woman. A collective singing of Arirang brings release at the end of the play, but are the family members mocking the simpleton, gurning as they sing along? If so it grates rather with a western audience.
Despite this puzzling aspect, nevertheless this is a powerful and brave production, coming a an opportune time.