Nanta: A Culinary Theatre Masterstroke

Every once in a while, I am prone to wearing silly clothing. If it has a Star Wars reference, it can be as eclectic as Elton John. I have been known to wear a bright red Shortstraw onesie at concerts of theirs. I have even LARPed in nothing more than a fake fir skirt, chainmail, and duct tape. But never before had I gone up on a stage, worn up a chef’s hat, and stacked bowls of dumplings while a small theatre full of strangers looks on in laughter. That is a small taste of the glorious madness that is the Korean food/dance/music/comedy show NANTA.

We had heard only good things about the show, and it is amongst the top ten things to do in Seoul. So, while Kristen’s mother is here, we felt it to be a good time to go and see what all of the fuss was about.

We arrived in a theatre in the heart of Myeongdong, and the setup of the theatre built our expectations, but did not give too much away. There were the usual posters with rave reviews from places as far abroad as the Edinburgh Fringe and an obligatory facade where one could take a picture or twelve between two cardboard chefs. Once we had done so, it was time to find our seats and experience our first taste of theatre in months. And what a delicious taste it was.

I shan’t give much away, but the show builds around drumming. But not with traditional drumsticks and kettle drums. With razor-sharp knives. And cutting boards. And pots, pans, whisks, bowls, and a host of seemingly innocuous kitchen utensils. The ingenuity of the manner in which NANTA uses its set was something to marvel at.

And this sense of wonder extends to every aspect of the show. The dancing was flawless, as was the drumming. The actors never missed a beat, no matter how manic the action became. The comedic timing was exact. The show contained largely physical comedy, which helped it to pierce any language barrier that could have existed. While it was hilariously ridiculous, it never reached a point that felt excessive. I had not laughed that hard in a long time.

The show even managed to perfect something that I generally see shows misstep with – audience participation. We were so enraptured by the performance, none of the members of the audience asked to participate seemed to be averse to it. This did not depends on what we were asked to do, whether this was to wear a caricature of Korean traditional dress and sample soup, to pull a dustbin off of one of the characters’ backside, or to help prepare dumplings, as I did.

My moment on stage was brief, but eventful. I managed to nearly concuss myself with a wooden mallet, knock over a stack of dumplings, and look like a prize fool while doing it. It was glorious, and it is a memory of Korea that I will most definitely carry with me. Possibly because I will have a bump on my head to remind me. Time will tell, and hopefully heal, just as NANTA healed my negative mood.

I walked into the theatre a sullen, moderately unhappy gent, and left it beaming like a puppy who’d found the secret stash of dog treats. I recommend it highly, and will probably see it again before I leave. Probably many times. Thank you, NANTA.

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