BWW Review: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2019: CUCKOO at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

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BWW Review: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2019: CUCKOO at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival CentreReviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 26th October 2019.

Presented by Jaha Koo/CAMPO, a Korean and Belgian collaboration, Cuckoo introduces three 'telerobotic' rice cookers, given the names Hana, Duri, and Seri, and their owner, the writer and composer, Jaha Koo, born in Korea and now living between Belgium and the Netherlands. Cuckoo is the brand name of these electric rice cookers and, if you have a few hundred dollars spare, you can buy one in Australia. One of them, an older model, simply cooks rice, its only speech being "Cuckoo has finished cooking rice. Please stir the rice." The other two are far more vocal and, after engaging in some comical badinage, provide a physical presence for the voices of a range of people. Together with Jaha Koo, they tell of the tragedies of the last two decades of South Korean history, following the 1997 Asian economic crisis.

Underscored by Koo's music, the performance began with disturbing snippets of newsreels shown on a large screen. He was only fourteen at the time and the financial collapse was to have a great impact on him as he grew up.

The crisis began in Thailand, with the devaluation of their currency, and it flowed on, with Korea being one of the hardest hit. America could foresee a danger to its own economy, and decided to act. The International Monetary Fund offered to bail out the country, but the terms included extremely high interest rates and the IMF taking control. Citizens donated their personal gold items in an effort to help pay off the nation's debt, but it was all in vain. Unemployment soared. Society was damaged.

The question, "Hello my son. Did you have a good meal?", means far more than it appears on the surface. It is a leading question that asks about the person's entire wellbeing, pertinent in a society where suicide is a regular occurrence, so prevalent that screen doors were fitted to stop people stepping in front of arriving trains, opening only when the train is stationary.

In a series of insights, from the very personal to global, Koo conveys the terrible effects that the economic collapse had upon the people of South Korea through a blend of spoken word, his music, images, videos, and the 'voices' of the rice cookers. He builds up a picture, piece by piece, also conveying his own pain and his sense of loss and isolation. He ends, symbolically molding and balancing blocks of the cooked rice to the point of their collapse.

This was a profound and moving work that had great impact on the audience.

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