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Review, Theatre

THEATRE REVIEW: JiHa Underground

Underground Adventures

ZENOBIA FROST reviews Under the Radar’s 지하 Underground.

Pull up a beanbag under the glimmer of a disco ball (or under the great cardboard whale) and make sure you have a beer in hand. Welcome to 지하 (JiHa) Underground: a karaoke speakeasy underwater queer surrealist love story with complementary watermelon. Yep — all those things and more.

I visited 지하 Underground in its first home at Metro Arts twice last year. As such, I reviewed this show for Rave Magazine in November of 2011, and I’m hesitant to repeat myself. But what a thrill and a relief to return. The creative team has honed this show pretty damn close to chaotic perfection.

All the factors that made Jeremy Neideck’s direction so successful the first time around are still there. The narrative (delivered in English and Korean) unfolds so naturally out of the space and characters; the cast’s carefully rehearsed spontaneity is invisible; every scattered piece of bric-a-brac might be significant; and time (even in this longer version) still seems to warp. There’s something about the space and lighting that evokes being inside a neon aquarium.

I had wondered whether 지하 Underground’s new incarnation, in a pop-up container in West End, would take away from the cosiness I so loved at Metro Arts. The space is still crammed with stuff to investigate, but it’s bigger and airier. This allows the troupe room to really fill the space with the story — through play, dance, and song. (By the way, they’ve successfully crowdfunded an album, and I can’t wait to sing along at home.)

Nathan Stoneham and Younghee Park — photo by Gerwyn Davies

Additions to the script take 지하Underground closer to magical realism; indeed, the bathtub-sailing adventures of the Coconut Princess bring to mind the atmosphere of Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry. I particularly loved the use of mysterious, sparkling lights — messages in bottles from far-off lands.

The actors are so comfortable in their roles they might well not be acting at all. Younghee Park shines as cool Cheolsu; Nathan Stoneham is ethereal; Dave Sleswick brings the fully functioning bar into the show; and our gracious host (Hoyoung Tak) is utterly lovable.

The result is a show that makes you at home inside its theatrical realm and ­— even more rare — makes you feel delighted to be human. 지하 Underground is a safe haven, and a springboard for adventure: a free place from which to go forth and “see things you’ve never seen, and visit places you’ve never been.

지하 UNDERGROUND runs in the Absoe Carpark on Mollison Street, West End (opposite The Three Monkeys) until Sep 29, 2012. The space functions as a bar until midnight every night, with special local and international artists (including Polytoxic) dropping in after the show proper to do back-up dancing for your karaoke. Does it get any better than this?

ZENOBIA FROST (@zenfrost) was, until recently, the arts editor of Rave Magazine. She is a founding member of OffStreet Press and is fond of strange myths, incisive verse, theatre, graveyards, tea, and editing.


About Zenobia Frost

Zenobia Frost is a poet based in Brisbane, Australia who won the 2018 Val Vallis Award for her poem, 'Reality On-Demand'. Zenobia’s second poetry collection, AFTER THE DEMOLITION, is available from Cordite Books.



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