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The Tempest

Adapted from William Shakespeare by Tae-Suk Oh
Mokwha Repertory Company, Korea
King's Theatre

Compared to the version of King Lear from Taipei playing just up the road at the Lyceum, Tae-Suk Oh of the Mokwha Repertory Company from Korea has stuck far closer to the original text.

This does not mean that he lacks flare, imagination or an eastern spin; far from it.

The music is from his own tradition and the dance, physicality and costumes follow similar principles.

While the characters have Korean names, their actions are close to the Shakespearean originals and, for the sake of simplicity, the English names are used throughout this review. No attributions are given to the performers in the programme and this policy of anonymity has also been respected.

Prospero looks just like Jimi Hendrix, with shaggy black hair and a beard, and is first seen pounding a large drum in one of the boxes.

Soon enough, he is ordering around a female Ariel, who, like other spirits, wears a face mask on the back of her head. These masks, whether worn front or back, vary from space invader look-alikes to a whole menagerie of colourful animals, which adds an extra dimension to the island.

Having caused a tempest and shipwreck, Ariel, mincing along with tiny geisha steps, delivers Ferdinand to Prospero who openly explains that he caused the disaster because he wanted a husband for his innocent, young Miranda.

The wreck also brings with it a couple of reprobates who team up with a two-headed Caliban, leading to a touching finale when she (both of her), like all of the island's other inhabitants, is offered freedom.

Before that, the other visitors are made to suffer for the wrong that they had done Prospero a dozen years before, with both the old man Gonzalo and the Duke representing the Korean traditions in their looks and playing.

Tae-Suk Oh has created a beautiful and frequently witty reading and presentation of the play that will be instantly intelligible to those with a reasonable knowledge of the text and should have something to offer to newcomers as well.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher