Note: Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s dream by the Yohangza Theatre Company was one of the international theatre productions at the recently concluded The Hindu Metroplus TheatreFest. This review appeared in a different form in the Hindu MetroPlus, August 04, 2008.
A spectacularly intense, visual, musical, physical play all the way from Korea lit up the Chennai theatre space during the Hindu Metroplus Theatre festival. It was fascinating to see an Asian adaptation of Shakespeare from which we didn’t know quite what to expect at first. After seeing it though, I can vouch that Shakespeare’s human drama and comedy could not have been better transplanted onto another culture. I always knew that Shakespeare’s themes are universal, now I know how much it is indeed so.
The seamless blending of Korean mythology and a well-known story brought in a fresh perspective. Funny and mischievous spirits called the Dokkebi meddle in the lives mortals with disastrous results. When things go out of hand, they also set it right. Some liberties were taken with the original story since this was an adaptation: the roles of Titania and Oberon were reversed and Bottom was assayed by an old woman.
No Midsummer Night’s Dream production can be complete without Puck. And here we have two, both equally mischievous, which doubles the fun quotient. However the maximum laughs were reserved for ribald comedy and innovatively-incorporated Tamizh dialogues.
Speaking those dialogues were four strong main characters, as physically different from the other as possible. Jee-Young Kim who played the role of Beuk had an astounding range of emotions. Actually all the actors exhibited their acting skills with mime-like exaggerated gestures. Since the play was in Korean, they had provided surtitles or super titles, as I prefer to call them. (A screen above the acting space provided English translations of the Korean dialogues.) After a while, I realized that my attention was being split between the super titles and the action on the stage, which was distracting. When I concentrated on the action on stage, it was enough because their faces were so expressive.
What was unique was the way actors who were not involved in the action slipped to the back of the stage to play catchy live percussion that aided the action on stage. Almost like the Greek chorus, they sometimes interacted with the actors as well. The actors also breached the sacred procenium space to interact with the audience from time to time.
The play opened and closed with all the actors – gods and mortals – dancing in a circle signifying the circle of life. This catchy percussion was one of the highlights of the play. The sheer spectacle of dance, music, masks, and mime closed with standing ovation and two curtain calls. The actors who were constantly running, pushing, pulling, tugging, falling, throwing, and dancing constantly engaged the audience attention for 90 minutes. Also the minimum sets and props gave the actors freedom to explore the stage space.
The resolution of the play was not as smooth as I would have liked but that is a minor point compared to the effect of the visual spectacle that the play truly was.
It’s not everyday that one gets to see Korean theatre in Chennai but this award-winning play, which been playing in international theatre circles since 2003, started the Hindu Metroplus Theatre Festival with a bang. It would be great to have more such authentic talent from across the world.