Edinburgh Fringe 2014
“Brush is the enchanting tale of lonely little Daesung…his grandmother shares a secret with him…if he meets the three forest fairies and makes them laugh, they will make his wildest dreams come true…Paintings are created on stage and brought to life before your eyes. A bewitching story filled with weird and wonderful characters. Mysterious oriental curves and colourful westernised drawings are dancing on the wallpaper! Movement, puppetry, and heartfelt accordion melodies entwine in this delightfully inventive family-friendly show direct from Korea.”
As we walked into the theatre space a man played soulfully to us on the accordion, the cast already on stage, met us with beaming smiles and pointed to seats, encouraging us to sit down. They giggled and played versions of ‘Tag’ across the stage. The show hadn’t begun and already we felt welcomed into the unique and warming world of Brush. Once everyone was settled in their seats, the narrator caught our attention with an introduction and the simple invitation, “Let’s go on an exciting adventure…”. The mood was set.
The stage was effectively simple, focusing around three large white pieces of paper, which came to life in more ways than one throughout the story much to the delight of the children watching. The cast spoke a mixture of English and Korean without losing any flow in the narrative – it was a lovely way to expose children to another language and culture. The beautiful physicality of the performers meant that mood and narrative was always clear. The sounds of the Korean language in song were lovely, round and warm and added a subtle depth to the mood. The story was perfectly accentuated by the live music, played to the side in the audience’s vision, with a mixture of instruments, artfully complementary to the atmosphere of the story, beautiful and evocative.
There was great comedy in this play, huge amounts of sneezing and double takes and snorting clever pigs as well as careful and purposeful painting, showed the skill, commitment and energy of the cast. As I looked around I saw very young children open eyed and giggling – gently enthralled by the unfolding visual delights. My 10 year old was as charmed as younger children and was indeed, as I’m sure many other children were, ‘itching’ to go up on stage and paint on that lovely big blank canvas. It is heart-warming that this ancient act of story and play through painting can still be appealing in a digital age.
The gentle and warm atmosphere was lightly jarred, in my opinion, at the end with the caricature screams of the Mum giving birth, which felt unnecessary and cliché and a little inappropriate for the young audience. That said, the humour in it was clear and the audience were laughing at the physical fun of this scene as three adult sized ‘babies’ come rolling out from behind the canvas.
What makes this show outstanding is the ability of the production as a whole to maintain the commitment of a painted narrative that is in synergy with the set, adding an enchanting multi dimensionality to the piece. There was no reference to adult humour nor filmic methods of storytelling, reminding us that children can be completely satisfied with skilful inventive CGI-free storytelling. The build-up of mood was well paced, confidently played and the simple theatricality of the roaring ‘cat’ was a delight.