Michael Boyd’s latest production at Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio gives us another angle into this generous and thoughtful director’s work. Different to his Theatre Royal Bath productions (The Open House, Right Now and The Big Meal), Wild Goose Dreams has a bigger heart – in many ways.
For one, the characters are far more likeable; the challenges are around them rather than solely within and between them. It’s a play full of empathy, in a world far closer to home than you’d think.
Nanhee and Guk are both lonely – and their loneliness, like yours or mine or anyone’s, is a symptom of the worlds they’re in. Nanhee (sensitively played by Chuja Seo) is a defector into South Korea from the North. Guk (the equally touching London Kim) is what’s known as a ‘Goose Father’ – a man who stays in South Korea to work, sending his wife, child and pay packet to the US, to escape their own country’s punishing academic rigour.
Hansol Jung’s script is an interesting one. The first part of the play has our leads surrounded by the “one-zero-zero-one” of the digital world’s binary code, sung in their faces by the various pop-ups, messages, adverts and apps they reach out to, to assuage their lonelinesses. It can be too much, with a lot of dancing as well as noise.
But this is how it can feel in real life. It’s a clever device and the ensemble are a joy as they embody this (and other) symptoms of modern life. Guk and Nanhee are surrounded by their own digital teams – the apps and ads all have distinct styles that we recognise with ease.
This device is best used when they meet in an online dating app, and their online personas speak for them. As comedian Chris Rock put it about real-life dating, “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them, you’re meeting their representative.”. Here it is, wittily dramatised.
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And that’s the thing about this play. Not only does it have a very big heart; it has a great deal of wit, which later skips into the surreal. I’m not sure the humour’s gear changes are smooth enough (I’d enjoy Jung’s dry wit and surreality much sooner). But here’s where this play starts singing to its strengths, and the power of Jung’s writing comes through.
This play is – ultimately – a tragedy. A tragedy about what humans will do to one another to make themselves feel secure – whether they’re acting as the state, online marketeers, the family or in a couple. It’s an excellent, sensitive and thought-provoking piece about being human today. A story full of wit and love and hope.
And it runs (for 90 mins, no interval) at the festively imitate Ustinov until December 21. Get yourselves a ticket, a warm seat and a heart-ful of story this Christmas – and go.
Wild Goose Dreams continues at the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath until December 21. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.theatreroyal.org.uk/event/wild-goose-dreams
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