A Midsummer Night's Dream from the East
Yohangza Theatre Company, Korea
Tobacco Factory, Bristol
Career opportunities might never have knocked for Joe Strummer, but Bristolians were offered a rare 'Korea opportunity' with the arrival in town of the Yohangza Theatre Company and their exuberant production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for the only regional dates by the ensemble.
The arrival here of since January of Romanian, Japanese, Indian, South African, German and American Shakespearean productions have already offered fortunate theatregoers in the UK fascinatingly fresh, or, in some cases, plain bizarre, takes on works rendered smooth by familiarity and a homegrown style of performance. So there was a keen air of anticipation around this acclaimed production by the South Korean company which premiered here at the Edinburgh Festival to acclaim two years ago.
I'm not sure whether it was a directorial decision or one necessitated by technological limitations at the Tobacco Factory, but the surtitles seen at the Barbican were gone, something which initially caused a little confusion, even though I know the play well enough, as a number of the characters are jettisoned and Puck gains a twin. Many of the characters are also 'whited up', making initial identifications harder still, despite having read the explanation provided in the (free) programme which outlines the reworked play's synopsis and the incorporation of Koran folklore.
The production retains the story of the four lovers and their flight, for differing reasons, into the forest. It also keeps the characters of the fairy king and queen. Here, however, it is Gabi, King of the Fairies, who is the taught an abject lesson, by Dot, Queen of the Fairies, for his inveterate womanising. And the object of his misguided passion is Ajumi, a superstitious crone who spends her life wandering the forest collecting herbs to sell and who is transformed, not into an ass, but a pig.
The production is performed with a palpable sense of joy and the committed physicality of the Indian Dream seen recently in Stratford. And now as then, the production prompted the realisation that just because Shakespeare was English it doesn't follow that our current stage practice is necessarily more likely to bring a modern audience closest to Shakespeare. What the Indian Dream brought out better than any English production I have seen to date - and something which this production also does - is the real sense of mischief which animates the world of the fairies.
This Dream, which is delivered by a nine-strong ensemble,clocks in at 90 minutes without an interval and includes mime, singing, contemporary Korean music provided by a soundtrack and augmented with drumming and percussion by members of the cast, as well as audience interaction.
The production, which was rapturously received by a capacity audience on an uncomfortably close night in this intimate venue, perforce delivers something less than a full Dream - more of a reverie? One misses the richness afforded by the full panoply of characters inhabiting the various worlds of court, forest and company of Mechanicals, a richness of interconnections which was likened by Auden to a series of Chinese boxes. Still, as Wilde remarked of a cigarette, which he found to be 'a perfect pleasure': "It is exquisite and leaves one unsatisfied." What more could one ask?
Reviewer: Pete Wood