Cuckoo / Lolling and Rolling

by Jaha Koo
Singapore International Festival of Arts 2023
Drama Centre Black Box, Singapore

South Korean artist Jaha Koo presents two honest, meditative and multimedia-saturated works as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, exploring the state of his home country through a mix of the personal and the political.

In Lolling and Rolling, Koo explores the linguistic imperialism of the west on Korean society. We see the primacy placed on learning and speaking English and how it's viewed as both a status symbol and barometer of success. Parents force their kids to undergo painful 'tongue-tie surgery' to correct their pronunciation. This is contrasted with Koo's own story of leaving home for Europe. His American tutor warns him against dreaming in Korean and constantly makes him repeat words on a turntable to master the language. It's only years later that he is able to read a Korean poem and reclaim its value, finally finding his own authentic voice. 

In Cuckoo, the simmering political tension and precarious financial situation of Korea over the past few decades is presented through a series of talking Cuckoo-brand rice cookers. It's a whimsical yet apt metaphor for a society that seeks to churn out neat, sturdy citizens like perfectly cooked grains of rice. Of course, reality is quite different. We get anecdotes of isolation, high suicide rates and the struggle to find happiness alongside accounts of the political interference by the west in Korea's affairs. 

Koo's earnest, restrained delivery carries both shows though he ends up repeating the same themes and the many strands explored don't quite build up to a coherent whole. That said, this is thoughtful, tender theatre that most definitely deserves a wider audience.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


Popular Posts