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Lost in Translation [Hole]

Hole

Hole, Theatrical Company ENSEMBLE [Korea]. Director: Kim Jinman. Cast: Kim Hyobae, Lee Dongjun. Lighting Director: Lee Youngmin. Sound Operator: Jo Jeongmin. Translator and Subtitle Operator: Hwang Gun.

5th November 2017

Ground Floor, Maharashtra Cultural Centre, Pune

2º IAPAR (International Association for Performance Arts and Research Theatre) Festival

 

Premiered in the context of the political crisis that lead to the impeachment of South Korea’s President, Park Geon-Hye, in 2016, Hole aims to be a metaphor to raise awareness when it comes to corruption and misconduct on the part of any government, even though it was specifically created for the South Korean reality. Two performers act out a very simple plot in which a construction worker and a specialist are confronted with the sudden appearance of a sinkhole in a public space and each of them faces the problem quite differently: the worker wants to cover up the hole and get things over with as fast as possible – not caring for the fact that it might be a temporary fix – while the specialist, vehemently against the worker’s stance, fights for the need to maintain the hole open so that he can conduct an investigation to expose and remove its origins.

The metaphor is pretty easy to grasp, but the lack of subtlety was its main weakness. Being performed in Korean there was also a pressing need for English subtitles, but, unfortunately, there were technical difficulties that prevented the full understanding of the text. This may have contributed to the performance’s general weirdness, further fuelled by the excessively energetic and exaggerated acting that was sometimes off-putting, especially when audience interaction was forced in a sort of aggressive and pointless manner. Nevertheless, the plot seemed so linear that the audience could understand what was happening on stage.

The set design was the performance’s most accomplished feature. Clashing with the flatness of the plot, the physical hole, central to the production, was presented on an angled platform that not only allowed us to take a peek inside, but also constituted a challenge for the actors’ movements. From this dirt filled hole came a fowl stench as soon as the specialist started to dig further inside and sewage water started to gush out.  It eventually built up into the last scene of the performance – its pièce de résistance – where the lonesome specialist started to throw the rancid dirt at the audience, protected only by a plastic curtain that was suddenly unwrapped for this moment, thus producing a striking visual impact (for which the good light design was indispensable). As impressive as it was, this last scene turned out to be so out of sync with the rest of the performance that it almost seemed we were watching a different one, rendering it somewhat incoherent.

Also, we can’t help but wonder about the performance’s seemingly simplistic and unflattering interpretation of class issues, implying that the less educated worker doesn’t actually care for the state of things and just wants to go on with his life without any fuss, while the more educated engineer – the specialist – is portrayed as this beacon of justice who truly wants to make the world a better place even if it costs him his government job, his sanity and almost his own life.

In conclusion, we may regard it as a black and white performance where nothing really happened or was solved, since the specialist was left alone to dig deeper into the muddy hole giving the impression that he would continue to do so until the end of time and conveying the idea that a change would never be possible. It seemed to transmit the message that whatever you do is never enough to make things straight when it comes to state misconduct and that you might lose your mind in the process of trying, especially if you intend to tackle the issues all by yourself. Alluding to the necessity of unity amongst the people faced with bad government in order to make a much-needed change is the most powerful message to come out of this performance.

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