FringeReview Scotland 2019
Jaha Koo (Campo) is a South Korean artist, now based in Europe who takes us through the crisis that in 2008 led to National Humiliation Day when the IMF stepped in to run their economy. It led to a sense of Golibmuwon (A Korean word without a direct English translation – like the Scots word scunnered but kind of means isolation amongst the people) which in turn led to some taking their own lives. This is delivered with video of the last 20 years in South Korea, personal testimony and one of the symbols of the South Korean recovery; the little rice cooker, The Cuckoo. Koo has brought three with him, two of whom talk and give us further insight into what happened and how it affected the people. Beginning with video it soon becomes highly personal as Koo delivers a straight-faced story of tragedy and death affecting his friends and the country. By the end we are well aware of how devastating Golibmuwon is and how foul mouthed and creative Cuckoos are too.
The start of the piece is video footage of the crisis and news of the country’s “saving” by the IMF. Rioting for the following years is an annually filmed event and once we have the background, we have Koo. He tells us of the effect of the crisis before introducing his little friends – cookers that can be found at the heart of every South Korean home; The Cuckoo.
Once introduced they get to talk two of them fall out with each other. The one that makes rice keeps their mouth shut. By now the personal history of Koo is set and we are off. He was born and raised In South Korea but finds a need to leave home whilst his friends are stuck in the economic mess. When one of them commits suicide – it is believed that every 37 minutes someone does in South Korea –the tragedy gets very personal and very real for us all.
The mixture of personal testimony, video and the use of these little rice cookers onstage is inventive and highly creative. What appears to be an avant garde piece of radical theatre conforms to quite a mainstream set of tropes. It does, however, give us a very effective means of understanding how the big picture affects the little people.
Koo’s escape with his sense of purpose intact may have brought either survivor guilt or the Golibmuwon but his relatively dead pan and emotionless delivery attempts to comforts us into the abyss; this is straight talking. Mixed with the violent back drop it’s a convincing expose that means we can name the tragedy as well as argue its merits. The issue I did have was that I wanted more emotion from him and the delivery tended to get too controlled when the images of other Koreans were quite violent. AT times the contrast worked, at others it felt too detached.
The piece was most effective when we were introduced to Gretchen Rubin who is an American motivational happy person. She is a privileged white middle class daughter-in-law of the man who as Secretary of State for the US Treasury was partly responsible for the stringent conditions imposed by the IMF on the South Korean loan – no wonder she is a professional happy person. This gets mixed with the deep personal loss suffered by Koo as one of his friends is believed to have committed suicide, and then the understated delivery becomes charged. The juxtaposition of a calm and monotone voice of sense and reason amongst the madness is absolutely the right delivery in that sense of chaos.
Technically the Cuckoos are the master stroke. With their delivery in contrast, the techno style music, by Jaha Koo himself and the video as backdrop it could have been an assault on the senses but all of these ingredients melted into one another to provide a highly charged and crafted piece of theatre; knowing your ingredients and how they work is what made me think about things differently thereafter – surely a key element of political theatre.
That it is presented as part of a Festival – Take Me Somewhere – that promises to build on the legacy of The Arches – makes this a massive opportunity and Cuckoo takes that spirit and gives it back intact and enhanced by the end.