In some countries, there are individuals who follow a recurring pattern of logic so commonplace it becomes a stereotype. Australia, for example, has “boomerang poms”; British expats who move down under, but become disenchanted by the life and leave after a few years, returning to their home country. South Korea has men who send their wives and children abroad to escape the pressure-cooker life of academic and professional competition, who spend little on themselves in order to send more money abroad, and can be found living in Spartan conditions and tiny apartments. Due to the long distance they can only afford to visit their loved ones on holidays; hence the term, “goose fathers.”
You would have thought that with all the myriad means of technology to keep in touch, this would be a perfectly reasonable way of making the most of life for your family, and certainly easier than it used to be. But you can find borders everywhere, and communication does not mean connection.
Wild Goose Dreams, written by Hansol Jung and directed by Michael Boyd, is the story of two people who are struggling to cross the borders around them, whether they’re technological, cultural, verbal, physical or even metaphysical. Chuja Seo is Yoo Nanhee, known as miners_daughter on her dating profile. She is a North Korean defector having successfully crossed the border, and though she is suddenly surrounded by people she struggles to make any friends, and is worried sick about the father she left behind. London Kim is Guk Minsung, the titular goose father, who has sent his wife and daughter to Texas to find success and prosperity, but finds a gulf of emotional detachment and loneliness wider than the Pacific Ocean without them. This is a heartfelt and desperate tale about these two people finding human connection in a noisy world of internet obsession and short attention spans, and the pit of isolating spiritual starvation that yawns beneath them if they fail. Nanhee and Minsung find warmth and understanding in each other’s company that grows each time a barrier is broken, but sometimes the barriers get remade.
They are accompanied at almost all times by the chorus, who step fluidly in and out of roles with various levels of identity. Minsung’s wife and daughter, and Nanhee’s employer are the only recurring roles, and mostly the ensemble take the form of the faceless gaggle of online internet voices, and the voiceless faces of North Korean soldiers. This mechanism is very effectively used when Minsung and Nanhee first begin talking to each other through online profiles, using the words and antics of chorus members rather than their own. Connection doesn’t really happen until the shields are down and they start talking properly, and it pulls you in with its sweet sincerity.
Contrast is also a running theme here – the stark paint job of the set, the maddening babble of social media vs the silence of true intimacy, the lofty heights of the angels and the seated positions of vulnerability. The pace of the dialogue is almost constantly swift, however, aside from some choice moments in the second half, leaving a handful of scenes compressed which could have been allowed to breathe. Nevertheless Wild Goose Dreams doesn’t allow the high energy to become exhausting, and keeps interest through the run-time by breaking up the naturalism with abstract use of dance, subtitled Korean music and disturbing penguin masks. The flightless birds are the opposite of the long-range geese, huddling together for warmth and support, and never escaping to somewhere new, personifying a central conflict between family and freedom.
In the social media age, for the first time we have a metric of popularity in the form of ‘likes’. But this does not translate into real friendship, real spiritual nourishment, and we can often take that for granted. Hard as it may be to throw off those social expectations, Wild Goose Dreams wants us to take a step back, turn off our phones and rediscover the rush of fresh faces, the vulnerability of stepping outside the comfort zone, and the warmth of firelight.
Wild Goose Dreams plays at the Theatre Royal in Bath until the 21st of December.
Book tickets here