Creating new theatre pieces can be a risky business. The enterprise can fail so badly that it leaves the impression the work was unworthy of the time and energy spent. Many a risk-taking sours in this way. Yet we know that taking risks is critical to the creation an developments of all new theatre. Whilst, arguably, the experience for the makers is a valuable one, occasionally a risk invested returns big as its reward. Creatively risky yet brilliant conceptual gems are discovered and eventually become both critical and commercial success stories. The Next Wave Festival’s The DokBoki Box, created by Park Younghee, M’ck McKeague and Nathan Stoneham is a quintessential example of how and why we need to continually innovate.
There are so many words but where to begin to describe the ‘grand experience’ that is The DokBoki Box. Simple, elegant, intimate, comforting and inspiring come to mind.
Set in a small, bright orange tent (the titular ‘Box’) and perfectly tucked into Metro Arts’ carriageway – the audience sit on plastic seats – the production’s leading woman and co-creator, Younghee Park imparts the story of her life and the cultural significance of food in South Korean society. She achieves this end by first cooking DokBoki, which translates as ‘rice cakes’. Then, accompanied deftly on keys by Nathan Stoneham, she proceeds to sing about her experiences in trying to feed the desperate and destitute peoples of the developing Asian nation. As the piece progresses, Younghee enlightens us as to her experiences in love, loss, corruption, success and a desire to do good. She has, meanwhile, completely dismantled any trace of the fourth wall by continuously feeding a now vulnerable audience connected to her every word and action.
Political yet never preachy, DokBoki did not claim an ideological stance and then spend the night defending that position; it was far more honest and subtle.
I found my oft-suppressed musical-theatre-inner-fan-boy jumping gleefully with excitement when Younghee began chest belting top E naturals towards the end of the show, but the stand out moment for me was the song Green Cheese Moon. The sentiment of the song itself, along with its hopeful yet restrained melody emphatically demonstrated that one cannot overlook the sanctity of the less-is-more methodology when approaching musical theatre. However, my glowing review of her singing should in no way take anything from her fantastic acting. Younghee was exhaustively committed in every moment of the production. My favourite moment was when she played a characterisation of her own mother forcefully instructing her to marry a Hugh Jackman look alike.
The food, which was very much a part of the performance, gave the proceedings an interdisciplinary aesthetic – something I have never experienced before.
Mixing cooking with musical theatre in their way The Dokboki Box produces an almost entirely new performance form. By cooking the food live for the audience and by playing themselves, the cast avoided the clichés of dinner-theatre.
Whilst I am not a food critic, the meal served was delicious and in a way transcended the show by transporting us to a sensory version of Korea right there in a Brisbane lane way.
If you’re someone who finds the confrontationally abstract nature of many new theatre productions too much to handle, but still want to experience something new, then DokBoki Box is the show for you. The music and dialogue are surpassed only by the gestalt -the marvellous combination of content, space and cooking. Good eating!
Image: Gerwyn Davies