* This post is written by Anna, one of the Korea Blog’s Worldwide Korea Bloggers.
A while back, I decided that I was somewhat disgusted and outraged with myself for the fact that, despite having been living in London since September, the cultural outings I’d made could effectively be counted on one hand. Tut Tut.
So, when I saw the Globe theatre was running a series of productions of Shakespeare’s plays in various languages – I couldn’t resist booking tickets for the Chinese production of Richard III and the Korean production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was even more exciting for me I guess as, somewhat embarrassingly, my previous interactions with Shakespeare had surmounted to performing Much Ado About Nothing in secondary school and later, trudging through Merchant of Venice as one of my GCSE compulsory set texts. I’d never even been to the Globe.
Having seen Richard III earlier in the week and been overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the theatre (as well as becoming well acquainted with what happens at an open air theatre when it starts to rain….a lot!), I couldn’t wait to head back to the theatre for my second Shakespeare instalment of the week.
Armed with a general understanding of the play (thanks Sparknotes!) and joined by my Korean language partner, I figured I had a reasonably good chance of ‘getting’ most of it!
Well. The performance was stunning. Absolutely breathtakingly, fantastically awesome. If there was ever a Shakespeare play that was just asking to be thrown linguistically and culturally into a new language, it is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or 한 여름밤의 꿈 to give it it’s Korean title.
Performed by the wonderful cast of the Yohangza Theatre Company (극장 여행자), A Midsummer Night’s Dream is electrifying and bewitching, drawing on Shakespeare’s original plot line and weaving in various themes of Korean tradition and folklore.
Oberon and Titania become King Gabi and Dot, Queen of the Dokkebi (Korea’s own mischievous fairies). Puck undergoes his own transformation into a pair of twins called Duduri (played by double-act Sang-Bo Kim and Jung-Yong Jeon, shown below) and a twist in the translation sees the incurable womaniser King Gabi placed under a spell by his wife, making him fall in love with the first woman he sees. Upon his awakening, she ensures he sees – not a bottom turned into an ass but instead an ajumi (old woman / herb collector) transformed into a pig! – a fitting punishment for a man with a roving eye~!
The protagonists are dressed in plain, traditional clothes to reflect their personalities. Byeok (Hermia) enters the stage donned in an eye-catching red top, the beauty, beloved by all (at least before entering the dream state). Next on is her opposite, Hang (Lysander) dressed in royal blue. I really enjoyed the symbolism here – red and royal blue are the colours of Korean Yin-Yang (or Eum-Yang in Korean), illustrating her unwavering loyalty and his attempted betrayal – until everything is back to normal after leaving the dream state.
Ick (Helena) performs in a bright yellow top that connotes royalty, propriety and luck. At the outset, she is left alone, neither lucky or in love, but Queen Dot soon sees this put right. Her opposite Roo (Demetrius) is dressed in dark green, representing a nasty, untrustworthy person. He is true to his colour, abandoning Ick in the woods after being particularly mean to her.
After entering the dream state cast by Queen Dot, our main characters are stripped of their coloured tops and don white ones instead – symbolic of immersion in nature according to Buddhist culture…and enter the forest, where purity and innocence may be found!
Yohangza’s style is as much dance as drama and is comic to almost Pantomime-extremes in some parts. The fantastic choreography of movement and speech combined with strong visuals blends magnificently to produce a production which is easy to follow, even for those who speak no Korean whatsoever – of which there were many in the audience.
Actors interact on a large scale with the audience, mingling among the standing, teasing them, tormenting them, as well as flowing fluorescent rings out into the audience – apparently this is to create a sense of unity between the cast and the audience, the rings given out as a small token of their appreciation.
Some moments translate particularly well. Ick’s “I am your spaniel” is rendered hilariously unmistakeable by her on-stage puppy-like portrayal – with barking, pawing and panting included.
At the end, Dot removes the dream state and all of our couples end up back in their rightful pairs. King Gabi learns to appreciate his wife once more and at long last, the old ajumi is transformed back from a pig to her old self. As a reward, the next day when she awakes, she finds a “valuable” herb, screams something along the lines of “shin-bad-da” and runs off stage, marking the end of the show.
However, some moments are a little tricky for a non-Korean audience to follow. I will confess to being one of the many people who had no idea what the significance of this end scene was. Unsurprisingly, it seems the meaning was not lost on the Korean audience. My Korean friend told me that basically, as a present / thank-you for participating (although unknowingly) in the Queen’s scheme to teach her husband a lesson, the goblins rewarded the old lady with a very precious type of ginseng (traditional Korean herb) called Sansam, a herb she’d apparently been searching for all her life. The Korean phrase “신밧다” (shin-bad-da) is used upon discovery of such a herb (and only in this case – so I have since forgiven my dictionary for not containing it … I don’t think I’ll be finding Sansam any time soon!).
In conclusion, the play was terrific. I walked away incredibly happy with myself, not only for having understood about 70% of the Korean, not even just for having finally gone and done something cultural but for the simple fact that I loved the show. It reignited my love of the theatre and deep down inside, a little part of me yearned to get back on the stage (I acted a lot as a child) – however, this feeling quickly disappeared when I got home and saw all my revision waiting for me
Photo Credit – The Globe webpage, The KCC