Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tokebi Storm

Today, I went to see 'Tokebi Storm', a Korean show blending traditonal music with contemporary themes and rhythms.

The group was formed in 1995 by South Korean playwright, Ye In-dong. Having achieved much success in South Korea, the group then went on to have lots of international acclaim, including winning the Herald Angel Award For Music, at the Edinburgh Festival in 2000.

In Korean 'tokebi' means 'goblin', mischievous creatures with supernatural powers that have human characteristics, which are frightening but not evil. They are untamed spirits that enjoy eating, drinking and singing and are quite different to the concept of a monster or ghost that we have in Western culture. They are very much like humans in terms of emotions and appearance and they not only reward the good, but punish the wicked.

Just before the show begins, a projection screen is lowered in front of the audience. Instructions come up and then everyone has the chance to practice clapping and stamping in time to the beat. This livens everyone up and gets them in the mood for what's about to come. Then the lights dim, it becomes pitch black and fluorescent lights dart back and forth around the theatre to create a ghostly, otherworldly feel.

The show begins with four members of a Korean punk band practicing their latest song. Through a series of mishaps they then end up trapped in the netherworld of the tokebi, unable to escape. Wandering about lost, they finally come face to face with the tokebies and a series of comedy chases and mishaps ensue.

In order to return back to the real world they have to face off against the four tokebies in a music duel, playing a variety of different instruments such as drums, to ordinary household objects like plastic bottles which are banged on the floor. Only if the humans win will they be able to return to the real world.

There's plenty of audience participation along the way which all adds to the sense of fun and atmosphere, quite similar to what you would experience in a pantomime back in dear old Britain at Christmas time.

There isn't much speaking as the story is told through the music and actions of the characters, so a knowledge of Korean isn't nescessary to enjoy it. It moves along at a terrific pace and it kept the audience sitting alongside me enthralled for the whole performance, which seemed to just fly by.

Much of the music takes its inspiration from Pungmul, a traditonal style of Korean music used to expel evil spirits from villages and purify drinking wells. The percussion element of this has been blended with more modern instruments, making it an entirely unique experience.

I have to admit I was rather pleasantly surprised with the show. Its infectious beats even had someone as rhythmically challenged as me tapping my feet and clapping my hands by the end. Above all else it's the sense of fun the show has that makes it so enjoyable for old and young alike. The world of the tokebi is definitely a place I wouldn't mind visiting again.