[ Event Review ] 'Brush' Korean Family Play by the Haddangse ~ 하땅세 Crew

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Haddangse crew are here in the UK to participate in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ahead of their performance at Edinburgh, they put on a ‘one night only performance’ at the Korean cultural Centre in London. Since I can’t make it to the festival, plus it looked  interesting to me I decided to go check it out and it was a good opportunity to introduce my family to Korea.

Haddangse ~ 하땅세 is a 28 member Eco-friendly theatre company based in South Korea. Their plays are performed brilliantly in the most unconventional style I have ever seen. They tell their stories by painting it out live on stage in an animated manner, capturing the essence of a story and bringing it to live before your eyes.

Photo Credit: KCCUK
I met up with the Producer/director of the show, Lee Kil Jun, before the play to have a chat and get a better understanding of Brush and the Haddangse crew, and also to have an idea of what to expect. He spoke Korean and I English, but with Chris Ryn of Coreamuser, a touring agency for Korean performing artists, translating for us, I got to learn a lot.

  The Interview


How did you come up with the idea to perform a play of this nature?
The reasons are very practical. In the very beginning, we got government funding to create something. After a while of brainstorming, we decided to create a play that will be performed using paper on stage. We experimented with different concepts during the developmental stage which took a long time. But in the end we came up with this concept.
I am aware that this isn’t your first time performing Brush outside of Korea, but this is your first time performing in the UK, do you have any expectation of the audience’s reaction?
I am very excited to showcase the play in the UK which has a very famous world-renowned theatre district. As a Korean actor and director, I feel honoured to be able to perform on this platform. Brush is a family play and I would very much like to see everyone’s reaction but in particular, I want to see how the children will react to the performance. I will like to get a good feeling from everyone watching brush especially the children as they are the future and their perception is important.
Have you noticed a distinction between Korean audience and foreign audience reaction to your play? Is it the same or are they different?
Koreans don’t like this answer…(laughs). Brush is a very popular play in Korea, it was created in 2008 and it kept developing as we were touring around the country. The main difference I have noticed is that in Korea, the children are very noisy and busy, which makes it hard to get them to concentrate and focus on the performance. However when we perform it abroad, the children are attentive when watching the play and they ask intriguing questions such as what is the meaning of Buddha and Mettrya as portrayed in the story. I guess maybe they perceive things differently.
How do you feel before and after a performance?
Before a show I usually feel over-wrought, it is a nice positive feeling. However after the show I am never satisfied with the result of the show, there’s always something I feel needs to be changed and improved on.
I think that is usually the case with artists. They are their biggest critic!

What has been your biggest challenge over the years performing on different stages?
Confession time… In the very beginning, Haddangse company was just starting out and there weren’t a lot of staff. Therefore I did the acting, stage designing, music and sound, directing, helping out with stage props and so on. At the end, after all the preparations and it was time to perform on stage, I fell asleep in the middle of the show. Luckily, I wasn’t on stage but was in charge of music and so when it was time to play the music it never came!
Do you guys have a tradition that the Haddangse crew do before a performance?
Two things in mind, firstly as the Director, I keep getting annoyed. The other one is we pray together.
What do you think of London? Is there a place that you really want to visit?
London is very beautiful, and as an Actor and Director, I am very keen to see all the theatre, such as Barbican, National theatre, Unicorn theatre and so on. But No Tate Modern!
I guess he will get along fine with my sister. She feels the same way about the Tate Modern!

I was delighted with the opportunity to interview Mr Lee, and was definitely looking forward to watching the performance.

An area was set up for children activities whilst they were waiting for the play to start. They were told to recreate a drawing that the lead character, Daesung, painted. My brother jumped at the opportunity and this was his finished result.

Photo Credit: KCCUK. Brother & Sister doing some painting.

My brother proudly presenting his work.

The Performance


Brush was described as

“A bewitching story filled with weird and wonderful characters. Mysterious oriental curves and colourful, westernised drawings are dancing on the walls! Movement, puppetry, and heartfelt accordion melodies entwine in this delightfully inventive family-friendly show direct from Korea.”

And that was exactly what it was and even more.

The multi-award winning theatre group from Korea took us on a 55 minute magical journey filled with lively music and funny one-liners, as we watched the heart-warming tale of Daesung, who went in search of the famous statue that will grant him his wish of a younger brother. The creativity and panache with which the actors carried out the play was commendable. Every stroke of the brush was a promise of an unexpected yet fitting image of the scene being acted out. Even though the play includes a little spoken Korean, it is possible for a non-Korean to understand the storyline.

The paintings being created live!!!

The actors in my opinion are the heart of the show, moving fluidly from one role to the next, they were able to embody each character and act it well. The play is versatile with the six actors playing numerous parts. Their performance transcends gender because even the lead character, Daesung who is a boy was played by a female. The most distinct in my memory is the pet pig, played by one of the actors. He played it so well that it was almost believable.

Audience Q & A Session

The audience were all eager to know a lot of things both about the play and the actors. This is not surprising because Brush was performed in a very unique way piquing the interest of anyone watching it. The first question on everybody’s mind is what is the concept behind creating the show? to which they gave a straightforward and practical response of how at the very beginning they wanted to create theatre using paper, without need for electrical props. The first haddangse play was created in 2007 and over the years as the play evolved, they kept on improving it and still are, even last night they made a few changes.

The audience were asked how they felt after watching the show, there was a general chorus of cheerful, happy, and Ryn said it makes you think, “I wanna have another baby.” (general laughter).  Director Lee was asked what feeling he generally expects from the audience and he had this to say.
When the actors are painting, they have this look of full concentration which the audience mimics. They are very quiet and so attentive, just like  a child who discovers a new thing. The audience’s face becomes like that of a child. I want to always recreate that innocent child-like feeling of wonderment.
An audience member was wondering how widely spread this kind of theater, say for example in Korea, are the haddangse actors only performing in this kind of theater or do they perform in a more traditional theater?
Ryn said,
This form of theatre is not a traditional theatre in korea. It is unique to this company and it’s the only one of its kind. For now the actors only perform in this setting but they are able to perform in a more traditional setting if the need arises.
There was a general air of contentment in the audience and you could tell the performance was pleasing. Someone commented on the acting saying how
" There was a dynamic in the show which was beautiful to see."
Taking down the used paper in preparation for the next scene.

The kids weren’t left out in the session as well, and they had a few burning questions to ask.

The first thing they wanted to know was how long have the actors trained for? Brush in particular?

The actors have been training for this particular play Since December 2012. This little boy who had his hand raised the whole time was finally called and he asked, how did you train them so well? They were pleased with his indirect compliment, and happily responded saying how all credits goes to their great acting coach!! When asked what the inspiration was behind creating brush, the Director responded by saying the play was created by using the input of two writers, they exchanged ideas and in the end came up with brush. He was curious to know what the little girl who asked the question thought the inspiration for the play from the performance she just watched and she said,
"Wanting a brother". Ryn added that she thought the same thing as well.
By the end of the play, I was bombarded with questions from my two brothers who were part of the children audience. They wanted to know the meaning of some words and also a few questions about the play. I guess this is another way of measuring the success of the play and how well presented, charming and interesting it was. My family before watching the play had little or no interest in Korea, however after the performance, Korea/Brush were the main topic of conversation at the dinner table that night.

Be sure to check the Haddangse crew out at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

There are other Korean acts performing in the festival as well. For more information click HERE I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

with love,

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