Ustinov Studio, Bath – until 22 December 2019
Over the years the Ustinov has brought us drama that covers the connection of human beings from across the globe. From the rain-swept streets of Chicago to the chaotic family entanglements of Argentina and the chic Parisian apartments of Zeller, its programming has always been bold and at times brilliant. If Wild Goose Dreams is more former than latter, Hansol Jung’s surrealist love story takes us on a fascinating exploration of the solitary lives some Koreans, from both the North and South divide, face.
Guk Minsung (London Kim) is what is known as a goose man, a South Korean who works away from his family, holed up in a small studio to send most of his salary back home to his wife and kids. Lonely and bored he forges a link to Yoo Nanhee (Chuja Seo) over a dating app. Namhee has previously escaped the North by boat but is haunted by the father she left behind. What begins as a tentative romance soon blossoms into something more, as both come to terms with feeling adrift from their homelands.
Jung’s always fascinating piece, detours constantly down different alleys to tell its story, from its use of a Greek chorus to portray the non-stop interruption of technology on our lives, to penguins bursting out of toilets. Some moments truly stand out, nothing more so than when Minsung’s ballad becomes a viral hit, the numbers ratcheting up until they hit the high millions.
Yet though Michael Boyd’s staging is tidy, it also feels too big for the stage that’s carrying it. The fairly straightforward story at its heart gets overwhelmed in all the works devices. Though the cast is uniformly excellent, it all feels like it needs to come down a notch. Kim and Seo play it straight and find moments of real depth but they are asked to go to war against a text and production that is always wanting more.
It is wonderful to see an all Asian cast (arguably those most underserved by mainstream stages) firing on all cylinders so that it almost feels perverse that both Kim (though admittedly UK born) and Seo have been drafted in from the States to play the two central protagonists.
Though both are strong- Kim, in particular, has charm and comic timing to take command of the stage- it seems a dereliction that two UK based performers couldn’t have been contracted for the parts. For all that it is great to celebrate an experimental, entertaining Korean story playing in Bath, more needs to be done to promote actors from all ethnicities to step up into its leading roles.
Wild Goose Dreams plays at the Ustinov Studio until the 22 December.