심청 <Shimchong>: Daughter Overboard!
Brisbane Powerhouse & Motherboard Productions
Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre
February 18 – 23 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Most Koreans can recite Shimchong’s tale… Her mother died in childbirth, her father is blind, and she sacrifices herself to the Dragon King – the god under the sea – in order to restore her father’s sight. But what if Shimchong was reborn in Australia, a young woman burning with revolutionary desire? What would drive her to jump into the sea a second time?
In this dark, political, and often hilarious retelling, you’re invited to drink and sing along as contemporary pop music, pansori, and physical theatre combine in an event that is as uniquely Australian as it is Korean.
The development and presentation of 심청 ⟨Shimchong⟩: Daughter Overboard! has been supported through funding by the Australia Council for the Arts, Arts Queensland, Korea Foundation and Brisbane Powerhouse. This project was also supported by HotHouse Theatre’s Month in The Country residency program, Queensland Academy of Creative Industries and Queensland Theatre Company.
“Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space where no word has ever entered , and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beyond our small, transitory life.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Meanwhile, as 심청 <Shimchong>: Daughter Overboard! is happening…
Latest update from Asylum Seeker Resource Centre ASRC:
AMA president has sternly warned against removal
Queensland Health understand no removal tonight
Thank you to the brave staff at #ladycilento for defying a government to protect a baby
To All the amazing local Brisbane people who stood tall to protect #babyasha
Everyone who sent us hundreds of pizzas (we’ve enough, 100 on the way to homeless shelter and also emergency staff at Lady Cilento).
Vigil will continue 24/7 until Turnbull guarantees #babyasha will not be moved.
Tonight was a landmark night, our nation is changing. It’s heart and conscience has awoken.
In solidarity Kon ASRC CEO
The political comes through in the personal.
심청 <Shimchong>: Daughter Overboard! is a magical, mythical, traditional Korean folk tale skewed by a forced political agenda to suit the current Australian climate. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
Jeremy Neideck’s new work for Motherboard Productions and Brisbane Powerhouse WTF16 boasts some beautiful moments, cleverly incorporating pansori, physical theatre, puppetry and shadow play, each element adding rich texture to the tradition of theatrical storytelling. Jellyfish lanterns transport us to somewhere deep beneath the surface of the ocean and a length of silk brings to life the Dragon King at the height of his power. When Shimchong plunges into the ocean it’s a shadow puppet we see sinking behind a water wall. (Production Design Josh McIntosh & Lighting Design David Walters). The image, combined with a haunting underscore played live on stage, is affecting and seems to set the tone of the piece… These are poignant moments; the essence of the show – and perhaps the initial, carefully construed approach to it – delicately wrapped up in each.
But what happened over a
lengthy generous creative development period or two? At times the ritualistic components are almost jarring, cut short, losing impact because of the juxtaposition against more conversational scenes, more dramatic scenes (misplaced musical theatre scenes) that feel over written, over zealous and over worked.
The reality is that there isn’t “one nation” that makes up Australia, only competing notions of “nationhood”. There is the cosmopolitan, educated nation of the inner cities and the parochial, anxious communities of the urban fringes and the bush. Asylum seeker rights are easily understood and supported by cosmopolitan Australians. We are well-travelled, we are not suspicious of multiculturalism and we are confident of processing and adjusting to change. At the same time, we rubbish their McMansions while gentrification makes the inner city unaffordable, and we castigate them for their cashed-up lack of generosity while it is in fact their kids mixing with the children of refugees.
– Christos Tsiolkas, The Monthly
With nothing implied but instead, shouted in righteous fashion, we feel beaten with headlines; political rhetoric from which I recoil in real life. Do I need to have it drummed into me at the theatre too? Does somebody think we’re not listening? (Are those who are not listening going to see this show?). Much of the script is superfluous, repeating and repeating upon itself, reiterating what we already know to be the tragic truth about our government’s intolerance for the desperate people seeking refuge in our country. It’s a necessary message, absolutely vital – I believe the future of the country (the future of the world) depends on our compassion – and if something, anything, moves us to action, to sign and share petitions and attend rallies and vigils, to light candles with our children, to make rooms available and to vote for change, then the message has been effectively delivered. But in delivering the message so earnestly, without any subtlety and without offering real reason for empathy (parody and comedy outweigh the human elements here), we lose the inspiration, the motivation. The call to action goes largely unheard because we’ve already tuned out while wondering, when will we hear some more gorgeous pansori? And, why do we need a redundant, distracting, disastrous EKKA scene?
There needs to be an alternative to settling people here that reaches beyond welfare and the ghetto. We are an island nation and we are not going to have open borders. That means there should be obligations and responsibilities that asylum seekers will have to take on if they arrive outside the auspices of the UN; that is, those who come here by boat. Might that be working to build infrastructure for five or seven years in remote areas, the way my father paid for his passage here? Is it being settled in rural Australia, to work in hospitals and on farms where there are labour shortages? I don’t know. I am not a politician or a social planner but I think those are precisely the conversations we should be having. In forgoing a humane and economically viable way of dealing with asylum seekers, we have squandered opportunities.
– Christos Tsiokas, The Monthly
How is it possible to leave the Visy without feeling moved to tears? To not care about the drowning, dying, forgotten people who come seeking safety? The evocative imagery, the voices, the story, the beautiful tragedy, it all becomes lost in “the mess” (an unfortunately accurate term for Executive Producer Dave Sleswick to use on opening night), of making something so ancient “relevant” to a contemporary Australian audience. Like the phase our film industry went through (is still going through), making sure we see in several shots per film, a jar of Vegemite on the kitchen table and a Hills Hoist in the backyard, <Shimchong> is trying too hard to contextualise and get us on side. We already know where we are. We are already on side. (If you’re not don’t tell me, please. I don’t need to know
you that about you). The authenticity is in the original story and the heartfelt telling of it, the political in the personal.
Do we need to contextualise so much for contemporary audiences? Or do we need to trust them a little more?
Neideck is an astonishing talent, having worked for many years to acquire perhaps the deepest knowledge of some of the most effective cross-cultural storytelling techniques in this country’s brief theatrical history. Now I want to see that knowledge, those techniques and traditions, applied via a more discerning filter, combined without the chaos. Also worth noting is that Neideck’s choreographic touch is missing from this show, and I personally miss the beauty of his own bewitching dance ability. Imagine if Neideck had played the Dragon King?! The moving, mixing, bilingual ensemble is fluid and fantastic, but imagine… Instead, Neideck is kept busy providing the soundtrack for the show.
A company needs to play to its strengths. No one can be all things to everyone and regardless of what this company may consider to be their strongest areas, from an audience perspective the strengths here include the wealth of cross-cultural creative talent, the boldness in the conceptual stages early in the creative process, the ability to secure support for the development of each project, and in performance terms, the Korean inspired movement, the music, the language…all the ritualistic elements of theatrical storytelling. The chaos has worked better for them in the past, with the long-running, hugely successful 지하 Underground (WTF14). And we were immersed in the rich beauty and classical elegance of the more traditional Korean elements in 대홍수 Deluge (Brisbane Festival 2014). <Shimchong> is somehow the middle ground and clearly, a necessary step in the creative journey that Motherboard Productions is on.
<Shimchong> needs an un-development phase. It needs…devolving. With less paint, fewer brush strokes and a smaller canvas, 심청 <Shimchong>: Daughter Overboard! might be more engaging and challenging, more deeply and persuasively thought provoking, inspiring us to take action, communicating its vital message in a way that is beautiful, heartfelt and haunting, affecting and truly unforgettable.