SUGUNG-GA The Other Side of The World

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

25/03/2023 - 25/03/2023

Auckland Arts Festival | Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki 2023

Production Details

Pansori performer: Eunsil Noh
Cellist: Jan Pech
Puppet and object master artist: Suho Moon

Theatre Moksung

Theatre Moksung fuses international influences with traditional Korean artforms in this charming puppetry and pansori/storytelling performance, perfect for audiences of all ages.

Introducing a version of the classic tortoise and the hare fable into this wonderfully creative setting, Sugung-ga tells the story of two animals from different walks of life – and the misunderstandings that arise from their encounter.

Pansori performer Eunsil Noh and cellist Jan Pech combine the exquisite puppet and object work of master artist Suho Moon with theatrical imagination and non-traditional instruments. Performed in English (with Korean expressions), their innovative staging is intimate, richly emotive and a sheer delight.

Suitable for all ages
Among Korea’s oral traditions, pansori (판소리) is a genre of musical storytelling that dates back to the 17th century, and is highlighted by narrative singing of epic stories and folklore drama.

★★★★ “Incredibly charming… It’s witty, gently entertaining and a joy to hear a traditional storytelling well told.” — Voice Magazine

“A captivating show… a joyous, inventive watch.” — Theatre Full Stop

“Masterful storytelling… Delightful.” — Theatre Board

Loft, Q Theatre
Sat 25 March, 10.30am


Pah Homestead, Hillsborough
Fri 24 March, 5.30pm

Te Oro, Glen Innes
Sat 25 March, 6.00pm

PumpHouse Amphitheatre, Takapuna
Sun 26 March, 11.00am

Auckland Arts Festival and Theatre Moksung are pleased to offer a Masterclass In Puppetry Making
More information here

Theatre , Puppetry , Family , Music ,

50 min

Skilful, satirical, subtle and refined puppetry with a sophisticated live cello soundtrack

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 26th Mar 2023

“Among Korea’s oral traditions, Pansori is a genre of musical storytelling that dates back to the 17th century and is highlighted by narrative singing of epic stories and folklore drama.”

Sugung-ga is one of the five surviving stories of the Korean pansori storytelling tradition. Sugung-ga is considered to be more exciting and farcical than the other pansoris because it personifies animals. The satire is more frank and humorous than the others. It has serious parts as well in the characters of the lord and his loyal retainers. Therefore Sugungga is regarded as more important, so Pansori singers sing those parts earnestly.

Noh Eunsil certainly does!

Sugung-ga is based on the story of the Dragon King of the Southern Sea – in our version called the Lord – a turtle, and a wily rabbit. This story is believed to have stemmed from a tale about a turtle and a rabbit in the early period of the Silla Dynasty over 2000 years ago. The theme of this story is the relationship of subject to king. We never find out the fate of the Lord, but everything points to his death by naivete.

Theatre Moksung is a Korean theatre company of artists specialising in Pansori, stage art, and puppetry. They’ve worked hard to find contemporary ways to include international languages into the Pansori form and Sugung-ga: the other side of the world is a wonderful example of this new old form.

Their set-up is simple. A solo cellist (Jan Pech) and a narrator-singer-puppeteer (Noh Eunsil) tell the story with charm and professionalism.

Both engage the audience with humour, Noh Eunsil with her deft use of the fan, and the ingenious, characterful turtle and rabbit puppets. The story re-tells the ancient story of an ailing lord of the underwater realm who needs a rabbit liver to cure his sickness. A turtle/pharmacist is sent onto dry land to secure the medicine but is outwitted by the rabbit. Noh Eunsil is the creative who devised the production and she’s stunning in it.

At the conclusion of the performance, I interview, albeit briefly, a small person who sits near me in the theatre. I ask, “Did you enjoy the show?” He nods. I ask which of the puppets he likes the most and I think he says the turtle. I ask is he glad he’s come to the show, and he says he certainly is. Or maybe it’s his Mum who says that.

It’s hard to know who this performance is pitched at. It seems to be suitable for just about everyone. The full house in the Q Loft is certainly a disparate bunch, plenty of the traditional blue rinse brigade and a good smattering of under-fives, a small number of identifiably Korean people, but mostly your standard, everyday Auckland audience. There is also very little difference in the responses that individuals have. There is deep silence and there is laughter, some of it joyous, some of it chuckly and even some behind the hand sniggers at the odd unexpected risqué moment. But, as usual, I digress.

My research tells me this show is very well travelled, spending a lot of time on the festival circuit. This is no surprise as it’s perfectly designed to fit the hiring criteria of most festivals.

As a work of performance art, it’s much more than that though.

We find out from the programme that Theatre Moksung was established in 2011 by director Moon Suho and designed to specialise in pansori, however one of the great beauties of the show is that equal amounts of the performance are in Korean and English. Noh is listed in the programme as puppeteer, but she is far more than that too. She is a wonderful comedian, confident, engaging and truly funny. Her timing is impeccable in English so I can only imagine it is equally so in Korean. While never abdicating her role as puppeteer, she connects with her audience in a deliciously intimate fashion. I find myself liking her immensely, and really appreciating her professional capabilities. She has a voice that could charm the waves and, at the same time, strip paint. It’s an extraordinary quality for any performer to have.

At its most basic it’s a beautiful rendition of a traditional tale, told using traditional techniques, but deviating from those traditions when it feels like it to make a point.

At the opening I feel that I know what is about to be played out in front of me. I am totally, satisfyingly, wrong.

Cellist Jan Pech, at the outset, seems rather heavy-handed and I guess that his role will be to make odd sounds to illustrate the story. I am completely wrong again, in that the complex cello score provides an integral aural texture that is spun into the storyline and adds enormously to the story: a fifty-minute soundtrack to the narrative that is truly wonderful. It is subtle, the integrating of sound with story is sophisticated and Pech plays with relish.

My young friend is absolutely correct, the puppets are superb. Again, initially, I think manipulation of the puppets in front of a fixed traditional image of the sea is probably as good as it is going to get. It is good but I’ve failed to give the artist the credit she deserves. Wrong again. The manipulation of the puppets is subtle and refined and, at times so profoundly skilful that it takes my breath away. And the backdrop changes too.

Both the turtle and the rabbit are wonderful. The characters created by the puppeteer are unique and subtle and incredibly funny. Although the underwater lord never appears, he has a persona created by the puppeteer, that borders on the terrifying.

I am unsure how the traditional singing, which makes up a good part of the show and carries a lot of the narrative, will go down with a New Zealand audience at 10:30 in the morning. It’s a rarefied style and a unique sound but I needn’t have worried. We adapt to it as a form and we love it almost immediately.

In summary, the cello playing alone is worth the ticket price and the puppetry is simply sublime. The audience is not keen to leave the theatre and, as we make our way out, the performers are surrounded by adoring fans.

The power of the theatre, and in particular this show, is sufficient to overpower the anti-transgender Destiny Church protest in Aotea Square adjacent to Q Theatre. Motorcycles and vile political signs line Queen Street attacking the government, and in particular, transgender people. In performance terms, Destiny Church could be described as Theatre of the Obnoxious. Give me a Korean puppeteer any day.


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