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.
Yohangza 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.
I 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!