The Korean comedy export, the ONGALs, came to my attention through the 2015 MICF Gala night showcased on television earlier this month and this short 5 minute snapshot of babbling comedy was enough to entice me to go see their one hour show in the gorgeous and famous Speigeltent, Arts Centre.
Perfect for this kind of pantomime routine, if you have never been to this venue, it is like walking into a gorgeous classic 1940s circus tent with wooden chairs, encircled by comfy booths, plus a divine drinks bar but minus the sawdust. Greeted by dapper well dressed and friendly ushers, the atmosphere of the diverse group of folk was electric from the outset all ready for a fun hour of entertainment. The stage is simply set with an orange toybox that seems as deep as a never-ending wishing-well full of items our comedy troupe constantly use throughout their jam packed session. Three Korean men open proceedings with clownish painted faces, colourful flannel onsies and bibs, and whilst one might conjure an evening of annoying teletubbies, I assure you it is completely different. Their routine of baby babble and physical mime means laughter becomes the uniting language for all, and highlights the group’s clever use of face, body and clowning talents to engage and delight.
Routines ranged from showcasing the many uses for a paint roller, a soup ladle, a toilet seat used as a magnet or an air pump to blow balloons to hilarious effect. Moving on, there was a musical serenading of bell ringing and cracking whips which extended to very funny audience member involvement. About halfway through, and at just the right time momentum wise, we are introduced to the fourth member of the ensemble – a beatboxing K-boy whose vocal sound effects added to the physical actions of the trio showcasing talented skill and amusing special effects. These sketches involved a very funny dance routine in and out of a nightclub, a shaving incident gone deliberately wrong, and finally to providing side-splitting sound effects whilst his mates juggled tenpins and knives. After all this physical exploits a seemingly simple short drink break for the boys merged into a masterful piece of magic involving a coke can.
There is a natural rhythm amongst these guys – they know each other’s strengths well, and it shows. Each facial gesture is deliberate, farcical and well directed to the audience, but more importantly, they are all serve an individual clowning purpose whilst still maintaining a cohesive whole, be it mocking the tummy of one or the exaggerated fear of another. The constant audience applause and cheers showed that these gags were well timed, logically connected and built on where appropriate to take a seemingly simple routine to the next stakes level for audience amazement and appreciation.
So who will love this non verbal comedy troupe? For a unique modern experience of humour that harks back to court jester panto days, the ONGALS demonstrate why they are a welcome addition to our knowledge about Korean culture more than just Gangnam Style K-Pop or Korean BBQ. In our audience mix were young hipsters, older couples, parents with their tween children and everything in between, demonstrating the wide appeal this physical kind of entertainment has, especially when spoken language is no barrier. And with over 9 years in the comedy business and growing popularity on the global comedy stage, this is one act that offers something different, hilarious and sure to be one to watch in the not too distant future. Highly recommended. (16 shows 26 March-12 April, Tue-Sat 7pm, Sun 6pm)