16 August, 2011

Review: The Tempest

Photo: 2DOHEE 2010
By Mateusz Jazdzewski

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Saturday 13 August

For those of us unfamiliar with Asian theatre it may have come as a surprise that two of the four productions at this year’s Festival are based on Shakespeare. The Mokwha Repertory Company’s The Tempest interprets Shakespeare’s plot in the context of Korean history and culture.

Mokwha’s production has a visually coherent and attractive structure, with ritual choreography, mask theatre, beautiful live music and dancers of great physical skill. Every element is perfectly synchronised and the strength of the lighting design allows the sequence of colourful images to run as smoothly as a pulsing rollercoaster.

Sceptics could be disappointed that the visual elements of the performance take precedence and that none of the serious matters or relationships between the characters are deepened. But perhaps we should not expect a Korean company to read The Tempest in the same context and manner as it is often read in Europe. This production proves that impressive choreography and intriguing music can do the work of a thousand words.

Since the 1960s when dramas by Shakespeare, Ibsen and Shaw began to appear on the Korean stage they have been intertwined with the country’s own stories and styles of drama. The Tempest is realised in just this fashion as director Tae-Suk Oh transport’s Shakespeare’s characters into the frame of similar history from 5th-century Korea. At that time, two brothers were competing for the throne; one was forced to leave the country and they met and were reconciled many year’s later – just as in Shakespeare’s comedy.

And the director has clearly emphasised the comedy of the piece. Both the physicality of the acting and the delivery of particularly frivolous lines produce an enthusiastic reaction from the audience. Notable is the sequence parodying Swan Lake when the stage is crossed by a row of actors dressed as giant Korean ducks as well as the physical skill extremely entertaining performances of the two actors portraying the double-headed monster, Caliban.

The Tempest clearly fits with the Festival’s aim of showcasing work from the east that offers a unique perspective on western culture, bringing east and west together in visual, physical comedy.

The Tempest
Mokwha Repertory Company

13-16 August, 7.30pm
King's Theatre, Edinburgh


The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

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