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Arts Fringes

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THEATRE

Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well! Live stage shows in Central Scotland, be they Shakespeare or avant-garde.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Kokdu: The Soul Mate @ Assembly Hall

What the Edinburgh Fringe website says:

Come and experience Korean storytelling at its very best. Inspired by Korean traditional shamanistic rituals and beliefs, Kokdu is a visually stunning storytelling performance that encompasses traditional folk songs and movement with exotic Korean mask and shadow work along with beautiful costumes. Traditionally, Kokdu is a wooden figurine that accompanies and guides the dead to their afterlife providing friendship, companionship, spiritual guidance, protection and entertainment along the way. A positive reflection on the idea that death should be celebrated as the spirit finds peace in its final resting place.

Watch a video:

Time to die

Kokdu’s story starts as a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, whose husband had passed away a year before, begins to hallucinate spirits outside her home. She herself is about to get visited by The Angel of Death. While she sinks into increasing delirium her children, who are preparing their father’s memorial ceremony, squabble and scheme over her will.

One of two Korean plays being presented at this year’s Fringe by director Jungnam Lee and the Mac Company, Kokdu has an unusual atmosphere that is alternately haunting and celebratory. It’s a small but impressive production with some fanciful period costumes, masks, Korean folk music and effective lighting. The latter is particularly memorable during the ghostly sequences, which make extensive use of sinister purple hues and shadow puppetry seen through the background’s “window”. Stylistically, these sections are somewhat reminiscent of Asian horror films.

Different ways of expression

The performers express themselves in a variety of ways throughout, ranging from dance, through mime, to dialogue that mixes Korean with a little English. The best performance was by the actress who played the mother, who manages to articulate the blend of despair and spontaneous euphoria that comes with insanity unnervingly well. The fourth wall is occasionally broken as the actors call out for music to play, a device that works fine within the ceremonial context of the piece.

As beautiful as the visuals and choreography are, the way in which the play is presented here is a little awkward. The story can be hard to follow for those not initiated into Korean folklore. The company attempts to rectify this by handing out English-language leaflets describing the sequence of events in the story prior to the start of the show. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really help in following the action since the house lights go down at the start, making reading from it pretty much impossible (not that you would want to look down from watching the show read in any case). This doesn’t really spoil an experience which largely works well on an audiovisual level without much need to completely understand what’s going on, but it does detract from it somewhat.

Still, overall Kokdu is (at least, to these Western eyes) a fascinating deviation from the norm. It’s well worth catching if you have had your fill of comedy and/or are interested in world cultures.

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2

Tickets are available from the following link:

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 logo

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