Monkeys: a species so similar, yet so different to us. Sociable and intelligent creatures, we often look to them to learn more about ourselves. When the possibility arises that a group of monkeys could provide a solution to transplant waiting lists, Dr Young-tae Ahn is sent into the jungle to find out more. There he meets with a troop of monkeys, and the lines between study and observer blur as each learns about the other.
Beginning with Hong Sun Joo's endearing performances as 'the Interlude Monkey', we are given a superbly funny glimpse of primate curiosity. Through incredible acrobatics, catchy a capella musical numbers and well-studied characterisations, we are drawn in to the world of the primates. From figuring out who has the bad breath, to looking out for eagles, we get to know their lives and personalities. But eagles are not the only danger out there… and the doctor will have to decide where his loyalty lies.
The show does an amazing job of representing the monkeys. The costumes convey their freedom, individuality and wild nature – while not being too literal and also allowing for astounding acrobatics. The leaping and playing, the small hand gestures, the importance of scents and the uninhibited behaviour are all spot on, and a great deal of study and thought has clearly gone into the production and staging.
The music is great too, from bass guitar to beat box, hauntingly beautiful lyrics to loud, vibrant dance numbers. Combined with the excellent choreography, this performance is an engaging watch, and visually it is spot on. News clips help outline the overarching story, though the first one in particular is a little confusing – it was not completely clear until later why these monkeys were being studied.
The subtitles projected onto the screen above the performers were a good compromise; even though you are often not sure where to look between the dancers, the singers and the text, I was grateful that they were there. You don't need to look at the words to follow the action, but the lyrics to some of the songs are so beautiful and the recurring motifs so well done, it is worth tearing your gaze away to read them.
The fourth act felt very strange, however, having a completely different and rather depressed tone. It was jarring to have it so near the end of the piece; if it had come earlier it might have contributed more to the doctor's character development, but instead it just dampened the beauty of his connection with the monkeys and the otherwise uplifting feel of the performance. It throws off the balance of the show.
For the most part, this high-energy piece uses humour to draw out compassion, acrobatics to appreciate nature, and a lovely soundtrack to set the mood. It's a shame that the conclusion is so strangely at odds with the rest of the show – they failed to carry me across the abrupt change of mood. Still, it is a moral tale, with well-played observational humour.