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Theatre visit: A Korean Midsummer Night’s Dream in the perfect venue

Midsummer Nights Dream ensemble picture
Image credit: / John Haynes

One of the features of Korean theatrical performance is the interaction with the audience. A venue such as the Globe is therefore doubly well suited to a Korean Shakespeare adaptation. Performers could easily mingle with the audience, surprise them from behind with a crash of the small 꽹과리 gong. And the audience standing in front of the stage were fully prepared to respond.

In fact, the audience was determined to have a good time and no doubt were a great support to the performers. From the moment when Duduri, the composite mischief-maker played simultaneously by two actors came on-stage to say hello and ask audience to turn off their phones, it was clear that everyone was going to enjoy themselves.

Midsummer Nights Dream
Image credit: / John Haynes

Yohangza Theatre Company gave us a cut-down version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, one which cut out the play within a play and the earthy characters which perform it. Bottom, Quince and the rest were replaced by an old woman roaming the forest hunting for herbs, who was turned into a pig by the dokkaebi, the woodland sprites, for their enchanted king to become infatuated with.

At the heart of the adaptation was a small percussion ensemble, playing the traditional samulnori instruments plus some Mark Tree bar chimes and some Buddhist moktaks – the latter two additions were useful in enhancing the dreamlike quality, being called into service when a spell was being cast.

All members of the cast took their turn to play percussion. There were only nine performers, and the main characters being the king and queen of the dokkaebi, the chief mischeif maker Duduri (requiring two actors), two pairs of young lovers plus the herb collector; when not playing the main character the actors were pulled into service as percussionists or as extra dokkaebi. Backing music of kayageum and more percussion was called into service as necessary.

Midsummer Nights Dream
Image credit: / John Haynes

The dialogue was not translated line by line – it was only the Koreans in the audience who could follow some of the jokes in the script, and it was good to have their enthusiastic response and laughter which encouraged the rest of the audience to have a good time. Surtitles gave the non-Koreans enough information about what was going on – and in this respect the performance was even easier to engage with than Yohangza’s performance in the Barbican in 2006.

The performers were energetic and emphasised non-verbal aspects. There was plenty of dance, clowning, interacting with the audience and also a slow-motion fight among the four human lovers which was very entertaining.

What stood out most about this performance was the way in which the audience took the performers to their hearts. There was genuine warmth in the applause, and the performers seemed to be genuinely surprised and thankful. It must be slightly intimidating for a foreign company to come to the Globe to perform Shakespeare, but Yonhagza’s approach was a triumphant success.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was performed in Korean by Yohangza Theatre Company on 30 April and 1 May 2012 at Shakespeare’s Globe, as part of the Globe to Globe Festival.


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