Current Issue #477

OzAsia Review:
Cuckoo

Wolf Silveri
Jaha Koo in Cuckoo

Taking its name from a popular brand of Korean rice cookers, Jaha Koo’s one-man show Cuckoo traces the personal and social fallout of the Asian financial crisis in a performance that is gut-wrenching and highly confronting.

Commencing with projected scenes of civil unrest and outright violence on the streets of Seoul, the show is propelled by a narrator who, having grown up amidst economic recession, is jaded, cynical and bereft of hope. Worn down by societal pressure and the loss of friends to suicide, he sets a theme that pervades the remainder of the performance: “isolation without help.”

Tempering this darkness is the presence of sentient rice cookers at the front of the stage that function as vehicles for the story – a device that proves both quirky and successful. With their flashing displays and sassy personalities, the rice cookers are characters in their own right and also channel other voices and personalities throughout the show. They are both a funny cyberpunk delight, and also a terribly sad symbol of loneliness.

Presented in several chapters, the story details those who have given up and succumbed, while taking aim at US monetary policy and Korean workplace culture. The show delves uncompromisingly into themes of hopelessness and suicide, and it must be said that it includes some truly shocking video footage of public suicides as part of its unwavering examination of tragedy and, indeed, isolation without help.

Koo is a South Korean performance artist and composer who is interested in how the inescapable past tragically affects our lives today. In Cuckoo, he does not offer a rigorous analysis of cause and effect, and no doubt counterexamples and counterarguments could be found to challenge some of the ideas in the work. Instead, he focuses on repercussions, offering a heartbreaking portrait of an individual who, having in no way emerged unscathed from the economic crisis, lays blame on the figureheads of political and financial forces well beyond his control.

Cuckoo was performed at Space Theatre on Saturday 26 October

Peter Krieg

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