심청 ⟨Shimchong⟩: Daughter Overboard! (Brisbane Powerhouse and Motherboard Productions)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
February 18 – 23
The epic tale of Shimchong, a motherless young girl who sacrifices herself to the under-sea Dragon King God in order to restore her father’s sight, is revered with Korean mythology. Yet, as noted by Director Jeremy Neideck, it is a story with significant currency, given this country’s recent refugee crises. And fittingly, political allusions and overt observation abound in this latest work from Motherboard Productions, in narrative premise, dialogue and a soundtrack that includes lyrics such as ‘they don’t speak for us; they don’t deserve our trust.’
“심청 ⟨Shimchong⟩: Daughter Overboard!” is more melancholy than Motherboard’s last WTF hit “지하 Underground”, but appropriately so given its central political premise. Still, there are many moments of comedy as child’s play is used to parody its social commentary, complete with drawings, dioramas and torch-play to take audiences along a ride from abandoned submarine to a wrecked Kookaburra Queen as Shimchong (Alinta McGrady) encounters the Dragon King, who, according to prophecy, will be the cause wild sea storms and drownings.
Every aspect of the show is art. Clever props and original staging allow audiences to be taken to its distinct settings, with water maintaining place as cohesive tie. It trickles around the place as seagulls soar and jellyfish float across the stage’s palette. Lush lighting evokes an array of emotions, while its soundscape is stark in its realism, forcing characters to appropriately compete their dialogue against the sounds of hovering helicopters in its later lost-at-sea scenes. And costumes are versatile to allow for the multiple roles of many of its performers.
Giema Contini, in particular, transitions easily between multiple character roles, including as a memorably ignorant Susan from Noosa. And Ben Warren shows a Graham-Kennedy-esque comic skill, particularly alongside Younghee Park in the children’s show parody ‘Great Australian Bomb Making’. Park is of fine voice in powerful delivery of the peppy anti-government manifesto ‘Burn It Down’, while Alinta McGrady anchors the soundtrack with a soulful ‘I Want to be Seen’ and the haunting finale ‘All My Ghosts’.
Accompanied by an array of instruments, songs range from the melodic contemplation to upbeat tempos and are memorable for their music as much as the messages, as is the case with ‘Roll Up’, a carnvialesque Ekka ditty with bouncy lyrics of urge to help the homeless and unemployed. Humour also often comes from the slap of lyrical, eloquent segments, also told in Korean, with ocker Australian lingo like ‘buckley’s chance’. Together the work to form a unique transcultural storytelling experience that typifies Motherboard’s conceptually driven, interdisciplinary work.
The story of Shimchong, destined to be Queen despite her determined disinterest in itself is a beautiful example of a myth of sacrifice such as those central to many cultural heritages. Thematically transcended to modern Australia’s border sovereignty vs loss of lives at sea struggle, it acquires a new resonance. With danger, drums and even a dunking machine, “심청 ⟨Shimchong⟩: Daughter Overboard!” is a magically synergy that is best experienced rather than read about. Although it drags a little in latter part of its excessive 100 minutes running time, its mix of the political and personal not only reflects the focus of WTF’s aim to feature international works that challenge the traditional definitions of theatre, but demonstrates all that theatre should be… innovative, engaging and relevant as means of investigating the world and ourselves.