Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Yohangza Theatre Company

When Tim and I travel, we like to catch a little theatre if we can. This can be a little tricky when visiting a non-English-speaking country. Luckily, we both love Shakespeare and are very familiar with a lot of the Bard’s work. This means that if a local production of a play we’re familiar with is on, we’ll try to see it. We already know the plot and we can concentrate on other elements, like stagecraft and local cultural influences.

I have seen ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ in Italian, with Caesar and the Senate all dressed in Zegna suits. I’ve seen a brillilant Polish theatre company make ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in to a dark, disturbing and powerful work about sexual shame and how forgiveness and healing can come from love. Remembering the gentle and moving power of Thisbe’s speech at the end of this production still makes my skin tingle.

Cast of A Midsummer Night's DreamYohangza Theatre Company’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, if you’ll excuse the pun, poles apart from the dark vision I saw in Krakow – but only in mood and theme. The same excellence is there, and the same infusion of cultural interpretation of Shakespeare’s work to great new effect. It feels slightly like cheating to have surtitles in English, as most of the production is in Korean, but there is a smattering of English used to entertaining effect as well.

This show is a pared down version of the play – only the key plots of the two sets of lovers and the battle between the fairy king and queen remain. After that, however, most bets are off as this small, multi-skilled cast throw themselves into the story with the kind  of energy that makes you think they’ve been consuming nothing but guarana for a month.

Puck is split into two mischievous sprites, called duduri, portrayed with wicked verve by Jung Woo-Keun and Kim Sang-Bo. In this version, Ajumi/Bottomis a woman gathering herbs, and jealous Dot/Titania uses the Duduri to trick her philandering husband Gabi/Oberon into falling in love with the earthy, unlovely mortal.

Meanwhile, the original story of Hang/Lysander and Beok/Hermia running off, only to be followed by Loo/Demetrius and Ik/Helena, with the sprites managing to get both men doting upon Helena, is the one we’ve come to know. Plotwise, anyway.

Yohangza’s production is, as mentioned, filled with exhuberance and energy. Bawdy, skillful, funny and delightful, it’s a joy from start to finish. The cast dash about playing mortals and fairies, playing musical instruments in between. They dance, they leap and bound around the stage and, occasionally, through the audience. There are some inspired stylised fight scenes and physical humour which is both exquisite and hilarious. This is Shakespeare, South Korean style, incorporating Korean concepts in story telling and mythology in the weave of the tale.

It’s a great looking show too – the make up, costumes, spare set design (with it’s little twinkling star field that lights up whenever the stage goes dark) make it lovely and refreshing to take in.

The PucksI felt lighter after watching Yohangza’s troupe zip through their show with such playful joie de vivre. I  felt refreshed, entranced and tickled pink. Also a little gobsmacked at the unfailing energy of the cast, who ran through the audience to wait in the hall outside and proceeded to pose for photos in full make-up, to the clear delight of the crowd who pulled out cameras and mobile phones to take advantage of the moment.

Yohangza Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at the Playhouse at The Arts Centre from 8-11 September 2010. If you want to see Shakespeare through the eyes of anothe culture, and have some wonderful clownish fun while doing so, you should head along!

Pleasantly brain dead

After all my boasting that I was probably the only person at Aussiecon 4 who was in better health at the end of the festivities than at the start, on Tuesday the adrenalin stopped pumping and I felt exhausted all day. But it was a nice kind of brain-dead tired, ya know?

I had an excellent time, and Monday was a hoot. I’m a raging extrovert (as those who’ve met me will attest) and I like to talk! So being on panels is a thing of joy rather than fear for me. Even when I haven’t had time to prepare properly. Hell, making it up as I go along is kind of what I do for a living, right?

One of the things I found most stimulating and delightful about the panels I attended and appeared on was the capacity for the panellists, and the audience, to shift from having fun to having insights. The panel on “25 Things I Learned from SF” began as pointing out all the silly tropes that appear in such fiction to concluding that readers of SF are sometimes better prepared for the changes in the real world than people who, for example, had not already spent 20 years reading about the possible social, ethical and moral repercussions of cloning.

Even stranger, the deliberately schlocky “Vampire VS Zombie Smackdown”, ripe with comedic potential, turned at one point to a brief discussion of depression and the fear of loss of self, and concluded in a very adult compromise that vampires may be more stylish, and zombies may win the actual war, but they are both really cool monsters. I was also thrilled to be on a panel with George RR Martin, who created one of my favourite tv series of the 80s, Beauty and the Beast, and that I got a chance to tell him so.

I met some wonderful people over those five days. I had fun, I hugged Rob Shearman, I spoke to writers and publishers, I got some great advice and some excellent tips, I hugged Rob Shearman again, I bought books, I spent some quality time with Sally, I got the blues and Terry hugged me better, and people I either didn’t know well or didn’t know at all came to tell me they liked my book, which also made me feel better.

My book stash includes Peter M Ball‘s Bleed (sequel to his amazing book Horn), books by Alison Croggan, Rob Shearman, Marianne De Pierres, Heather Brewer, Karen Chance and Sean McMullen, and an anthology edited by Gillian Pollack.

Among my favourite things this convention? Getting to know Tansy Rayner Roberts a little better; hugging Robert Shearman who is a delightfully naughty and funny man; getting writers I like to sign their books for me; snagging Kim Stanley Robinson to sign The Years of Rice and Salt; Kirstyn McDermott giving The Opposite of Life a shout-out on her panel “Has Hollywood Sucked the Vampire Dry”; spending hours with Sally, who is excellent company; and seeing the look on John Richard’s face when people squeed at him OMG YOU’RE JOHN RICHARDS FROM BOXCUTTERS!! and seeing that same look on Josh Kinal’s face when they were both there to interview Rob Shearman and Paul Cornell on a panel for their show. (Check out iTunes or for this brilliant podcast about all things TV).  I swear, the two of them were almost glancing behind them to see the *other* John Richards and Josh Kinal, who were surely the ones that people meant.

Actually, Peter M Ball articulated the evident truth that Australian writers (and podcast presenters, obviously) are always surprised when people come up to say they like their work. American writers seem to go “Well, thank you kindly. Why, yes, I’d be happy to sign your book. How do I spell your name?”. Approach an Australian author with “I really liked your book” and they tend to look slightly startled and say “Really? Are you sure?” and look around to see if you actually meant *them*.

Aussiecon 4 was inspiring, validating, educational and most of all fun. I feel a little like I’ve been run over by an extremely friendly stampede of widely read wildebeests. Not a bad way to go, all things considered.

These huge events, run from conception to final ceremony by volunteers in the SF community, will always have challenges. The committee by now are exhausted – actually, they were probably exhausted about two months before the con – and some of them may have checked into Rest Homes for the Bewildered for a little while. I want to thank them all for their hard work, especially as it is unpaid work that has been going on, for some of them, for several years. No con is ever flawless, but I had a pretty perfect time, and anything I regret is down to my feeling too under the weather to attend all the items I had on my “must see” list.  I had a fun, convivial time among like minded folks. And that, my friends, is always something to be treasured.

Words are like oxygen