So, what is a non-verbal show? Well, for starters, there is little or no spoken dialogue. Furthermore, nonverbal shows often focus on a special skill (or multiple special skills) of the performers, such as breakdancing (Delicious Musical Bibap and Ballerina Who Fell in Love with a Bboy are the two most famous examples of breakdance shows), or drawing. And the shows are restricted to theatres for no more than a few hundred audience members – Broadway this is not.
Finally, the show has to be entertaining, by incorporating humor (particularly slapstick humor) and delighting the viewers with novelty (perhaps by showing of their special skills).
What you will not find in nonverbal shows is a reflection on the meaning of life. When I’ve read negative reviews of popular shows, it’s usually ‘It’s 90 minute of fluff’ or ‘They’re really good dancers/cooks/musicians/etc. but what’s the point, so what?’. If you are looking for theatre which will make you think, or induce catharsis, or which is trying to carry a meaningful message, you won’t find it among Seoul’s nonverbal shows. You would be better served by looking into manhwa, the comics of South Korea (not to say that there isn’t plenty of fluff in manhwa, but you are far more likely to find thought-provoking, cathartic, reflective, rich-in-meaning storytelling there than in nonverbal shows).
So does Jump have slapstick humor? Yup, it has plenty. Does it show off ‘Koreanness’. Yup, it depicts ‘an average Korean home’. Special skills? Well everybody in this ‘average Korean home’ just happens to be a master of Taekwondo, Taekkyun, and gymnastics.
The audience for this show was overwhelmingly Mandarin-speakers from China or Taiwan. I overheard that their travel tour group had arranged tickets for some of them, and Jump has been featured on Taiwanese television. As I’ve said before, these shows can keep on running for years because of the constant stream of tourists who want some quality, authentic (re: Korean) yet accessible (re: nonverbal) entertainment. Even though this show constantly sells out, by now just about anyone in Seoul who really wants to see it has probably already done so.
Before the show began, the ‘old man’ walked down the aisle, and extended a hand to me so I could support him. As a reward, he gave me a candy. The audience wasn’t at first sure whether he was a performer or not, but yes, indeed, he is the grandfather of this martial arts ‘typical’ Korean family.
Was I entertained? Yes I was. I laughed a lot. I like slapstick humor and martial arts. All of the performers are excellent at both acting and their martial arts / gymnastics skills. The show does what it’s supposed to do very well. At the same time, I can’t say that the show moved me. I can’t think of anything more to say. If you want a fun night out (or afternoon) with slapstick comedy and excellent martial arts / gymnastics performances, this is the show for you.
All of the successful nonverbal shows do world tours at some point, so it’s not strictly necessary to go to South Korea to attend one.
Before I went to South Korea, I had seen a nonverbal show in Kyoto, GEAR. Looking back on it, that show much have been influenced by, if not outright inspired by, South Korean noverbal shows. In many ways, the format is the same – it’s in Kyoto, one of the most heavily touristed cities in Japan, rather than, say, Osaka, which has a bigger population, it’s marketed to tourists, it’s in a theatre which does not hold more than a few hundred people, it focuses on the performers specialized skills, and it draws on Japanese pop culture (robots and Gothic Lolita), and it features novelty. It seems that the South Korean-style nonverbal shows are spreading beyond South Korea.