>COOKIN' by Music & Movement and Unusual Productions Pte Ltd

>reviewed by seow yien lein

>date: 16 Feb 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: **

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Fusion theatre, like fusion food, is always a tricky thing - a hybrid of two or more forms of the performing arts, such shows run the risk of ending up a bastardised version of both parents, without quite saying anything new or interesting about either. COOKIN', which professes ancestry in modern Western dance and theatre as well as in traditional Korean percussive music, is an unfortunate example of this maxim; the one hour show is made up of spates of traditional and not-so-traditional drumming, the cutting up of vegetables, some prancing around on stage, and nifty circus acrobatics. These take place as discrete events interspersed with slapstick tomfoolery that follows the bare bones of a plot - a restaurant manager sets three bickering chefs a six o'clock deadline for churning out their stuff and saddles them with an annoying young relative. But instead of getting on with it they mess around with the knives and saucepans and play silly tricks on each other, or take time out to tease the audience, or to tango. After much petty squabbling they finally manage to produce the requisite four dishes, which is cause for rejoicing and further drumming and dancing interludes.

You cannot, however, watch COOKIN' for its plot. For one thing, it isn't always easy to figure out what's happening on stage. This is due in part to the lack of intelligible verbal communication between actors, as well as to the abandonment of the story at various points in the show. At such points members of the audience are hauled up on stage or if left in their seats, worked up by a member of cast so that they clap their hands and stomp their feet and generally get to feel included in all the fun and games. The last fifteen minutes of the show, too, is devoted to a long drumming set, complete with discotheque-type lighting and music.

>>'COOKIN' tended to use unexciting examples of generic Western music'

This was not necessarily a bad thing, however. The drumming sets, especially those which incorporated more traditional elements, tended to be the best bits of the show. A pity, then, that their effect was often marred by over-loud and largely inappropriate Western music. The judicious use of music is almost always crucial to the success of any theatrical production and that COOKIN' tended to use unexciting examples of generic Western music, or else bathetic renditions of serious classical pieces (such as "The Wedding March") told somewhat against it. Indeed, the desire for cheap laughs often jarred with the more serious musical intentions of the cast.

And it is perhaps this unhappy marriage of what is an arguably Western form of theatre, the vaudeville act, to a traditional Asian musical form, the percussive Korean 'samulnori', that gives COOKIN' its roughness and lack of sophistication; for the dumbed-down, often childish humour that informs the show sits ill with the culturally more profound art of the old Koreans. And despite talk of 'Stomp' and 'Tapdogs', there is really little by way of skilled Western dance to lift this show above pedestrian interpretations of either the West or the East.

Yet, for the vast majority of the opening night's audience, COOKIN' was an immensely enjoyable experience. Spontaneous applause concluded each segment of the show, and appreciative noises were made at the displays of physical dexterity on stage; tellingly, gales of laughter greeted the instances where misfortune of one kind or another befell the various characters.

So perhaps it doesn't really matter. For each work of theatrical art must find its final judge in its audience both now and in posterity. And although the East and the West may make for uneasy bedfellows here, let it not be said that we were ever one to discriminate against bastards.