Anybody who finds themselves rooting for a couple in a film or show will love the responsibility handed out by Ae-Ja Kim in
the plot unfolds like a good book, and left me wanting more
Using physical theatre to bridge the gaps in translation is a neat touch which neatly conveys the marital conflicts at play. The three performers are charismatic and fully-formed before they even speak, jostling one another and pleading their case wordlessly to the audience. The parallels are clearly drawn and easy to understand: the teenage sweetheart represents North Korea, the younger wife, South Korea. Interestingly, there's a deliberate ambiguity attached to their rivalry when viewed by the husband: he hopes for unity, rather than casting a strong predilection toward one of his two options.
It's a safe path, not to offer criticism of either of the two countries: the play is more a domestic than a political drama, although the fact that it dances around these themes without tackling them face-on does feel like the play hasn't quite unlocked its full potential. Instead, the drama takes a pacifistic stance through an excellent military mime sequence. Made all the more chilling by its immediate enjambment with a moving marital scene, we see how families are formed in North Korea on rocky foundations, the threat of war hanging like a shadow over the country.
The performers are more than happy to interact with the audience, which makes the domestic battle all the more personal. We’re brought into the wives’ battling to stand-in for their children, or even (in my case) chosen as the alternative third wife for the escapist husband. For Our Man, the fourth wall has never been in place; it was around our feet, pulling us into the action. Whilst the audience do have this personal involvement, it was hard to distance myself from the fact that the decision we had to make is larger than a domestic one. For every snippet of backstory, we still only have the selected moments of each relationship: Ae-ja Kim invites direct involvement, though for all we knew she could have as little influence over the runaway husband as we did.
To the average Fringe-goer, the longer duration might look overlong among a sea of the usual 60-minute fare. However, it should by no means be overlooked: the plot unfolds like a good book, and left me wanting to know more about the intricate relationships created. The fact that we only scratch the surface of the two wives' motivations is frustrating when there is time left at the end of the performance for a Q-and-A session; then again, it does capture the irritation at unfinished business. For us, the romance story full of blanks; for our performers, the promise of a unified Korea.