To help give a taste of the range of Korean talent at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the KCC hosted a showcase of four of the acts, at the Lilian Baylis Studio. Of these, the stand-out performances were Behind the Mirror and Black and White Tea Room — Counsellor.
LKL went along to the event hoping to catch the acts in London and thus cut down on the number of shows we have to see in Edinburgh: we can only spend at most two days there, and with no fewer that twenty Korean performance troupes to choose from there has to be some ruthless diary planning.
Fortunately we’ve seen some of the performances in previous fringes, and one of them, SNAP, was also showcased at the Lilian Baylis Studio. It’s good mainstream entertainment: illusion, sleight of hand, spectacle and a bit of comedy. The brief excerpts presented in London included the mysterious Alchemist, who seems to be able conjure up endless amounts of sand and sparkle from out of nowhere. Certainly an accomplished performer, as are the other illusionists and tricksters in the cast. It deservedly got great reviews at last year’s Fringe, and if LKL’s rating was a bit miserly that reflected the fact that we always look for something uniquely Korean in a performance, and this is a performance that could have originated from any country.
If the showcase evening was meant to filter out four acts that we don’t need to fit into a packed Edinburgh visit, it failed. Because, having seen highlights of two of the performances in London, we have simply got to see them again, in full.
The first one is Behind the Mirror from Go Theatre Company. Bizarrely described by the company’s agent as a physical comedy, which conjures up images of high-energy productions such as Nanta and Jump, this show is a magical musical retelling of the Goguryo-era story of Princess Pyeonggang and General Ondal, told from the perspective of the princess’s thieving maid. Imagine the Swingle Singers after an intensive course of yoga in the gym, and living and breathing a talent for story-telling and you might be getting close to what you might expect to experience. This is supremely engaging entertainment that will have you transported to another world with your jaw dropped in amazement that the singers can sustain multi-part harmony while contorting their bodies to resemble trees in a forest. Half a star dropped because the surtitles could do with an edit.
The other strong recommendation could hardly be more different. Black and White Tea Room — Counsellor is a dark drama centering on a former policeman from 1980s Seoul who has now retired from the force and uses he talent for getting information from those in his charge in slightly more gentle ways — as a counsellor operating from a tea shop. But his past, in the form of a new patient, is about to catch up with him in a gritty drama that will have you gripped. Not quite the subject matter that’s suitable for its 10:30am time slot, but based on the 20 minute version we saw in London we’ll be wanting to catch the full 50 minutes in Edinburgh. Again, though, someone needs to have a go at the surtitles: why is it, for example, that with some Korean typefaces there is a huge amount of blank space to the right of the apostrophe?
The fourth act to be showcased in London, Death City, was not for the faint-hearted. Maybe it was the selection of scenes that were assembled for the cut-down showcase version, but whereas with the other three acts we were left wanting a lot more, with this we felt like walking out after ten minutes. One admires the commitment, energy, grace and agility of the dancers, but when the scenario involves a post-apocalyptic city where everyone is hell-bent on being the last man (or woman) standing, before long you are craving some light relief. This is briefly provided by some athletic tumbling, leaping and breakdancing, before the leap becomes a taekwondo kick and the relentless carnage resumes. One novelty: as each post-apocalyptic zombie has its heart ripped out, coloured dust sprays across the stage. Once enough mayhem has ensued there is probably a colourful residue on the ground. In the cut-down version, despite there being more than enough slaughter to leave the audience totally mangled, there was not yet enough colour on the floor to provide the desired Jackson Pollock. The show will appeal to fans of contemporary dance who also enjoy the fight scenes in a Ryu Seung-wan movie. You certainly won’t have seen the likes of this before.
See a listing of all the Korean Fringe acts on LKL here.