Theatre Review: 심청 ‹Shimchong›: Daughter Overboard! (performances until Feb 23)

Shimchong: Daughter Overboard! is the latest production by Motherboard Productions. Its story is both rooted in old Korean tales, and tales anew painted by the tumultuous state of Australian affairs. It begins in a far away land of another time where Shimchong, daughter of a blind man sacrifices herself by leaping overboard and sinking down deep to the Dragon King also known as the God of the Sea. Her sacrifice is meant to cure her father’s blindness. But what if the Dragon King decided to have a little fun and send her awash into a new story elsewhere? Somewhere, like Brisbane perhaps?

As the producer Dave Sleswick said after the opening show, essentially all of Brisbane’s regular cultural culprits have contributed to this show in some way from rehearsal space to costume design- that being just one of the fantastic elements of this show.

Something that has to be commended in this production is the incredible blocking and set design. The clever lighting, or creation of creatures is a trait we’ve seen in La Boite productions before, and are happy to see it being carried over to the Powerhouse. Other brilliant strategies in the show were treating the Dragon King as a malleable chorus line. Having several people act as one embodiment, breaking apart and coming back together when the plot demanded it was refreshing and well executed.

There is also a bilingual element to this show we don’t often find in theatre here. One of the wonderful things about the World Theatre Festival, or more colloquially known as WTF16, is that it brings this fact to light in hopefully seminal ways. Shimchong: Daughter Overboard! incorporates Korean speech into the dialogue almost evenly half the duration of the show. It wavers from a comical, almost soap opera, anime-esque lightheartedness to a serious and beautiful sound of longing.

There’s also an analogy to this incorporation of bilingual theatre. The personas of the dragon that speak in Korean, as well as the activists and characters in the rest of he show speak in a language that goes over the heads of most of the audience. Isn’t this exactly how many refugees feel when they’re cast into a strange new land out of desperation and can’t understand the dialect or language of those who greet or sadly capture them?

There are some moments that spoil the expertise of the design and the acting. The message for example loses its element of satire and begins to feel more like someone has stuck a funnel into the throats of audience members and pours the crux of the story in that way. When the point of this modern retelling is already so potent and relevant to our own country’s prominent issues, shouting it almost deafens the power of the truth. Sometimes it is better to whisper in the dark, to make the audience lean in and listen for themselves. Breadcrumbs to the answer are half the fun but being told the correct response before you know the question can ruin the mystery of an allegory all-together.

Perhaps this is why the ending to the story is so desolate. Without revealing any spoilers the play is built up to a climax of retribution and a prime opportunity to deliver an important message in one swift but Herculean blow. Instead of delving back into the mythical wonder of the historic tale it becomes all too real and depressing. Is it trying to tell us activism is now futile today? Or is it referencing that activism was once a powerful tool but now we stand amongst the wreckage – this is the final curtain call; the death of activism. Or does it mean the activism some of these characters display is misguided, and we need to build allies to climb the system rather than to rail against it drowning in our own fatalism? Fatalism and hopelessness are an all too real sensation associated with the treatment of refugees. If that was what co-writers of the show Jeremy Neideck and Kathleen McLeod wanted to achieve then they did so in an all too well and haunting way.

Schimchong: Daughter Overboard! brings passion from different continents together in one stunning, visual and auditory experience. There is playfulness and desolation all within the single beat of a drum. It is an oceanic adventure worth being a part of.

Schimchong: Daughter Overboard! plays as part of the World Theatre Festival until February 23rd at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Tickets here.