In Mokwha Repertory Company‘s adaptation of The Tempest, Shakespeare’s original finds itself caught and torn apart in the eye of a storm; then reassembled with Korean traditional theatrical and music styles to create something unique, fascinating and riotously enjoyable.
The mystery of Shakespeare’s most magical of plays is intact: here, Propsero’s island is populated by the fantastical spirits, faeries and monsters of the original. By applying all the colour, flamboyance and charm of Korean theatre to the text, the comedic aspect of the original is amplified via a loose transalation, in a piece which – to western eyes – most resembles pantomime.
In beautiful traditional costume, the actors therefore treat The Tempest as an accessible piece to be enjoyed. Anthropomorphic creatures join in with a shock-haired Miranda as she discovers Ferdinand washed up on the shores of the island; Caliban is a cojoined comedic creation who provokes laughter more than fear; and the majority of the action is accompanied by music performed live by a quartet of musicians in the boxes of the King’s Theatre.
Yet to dismiss Tae-Suk Oh’s adaptation as broad-brush comedy would be a mistake. The Tempest is visually stunning, particularly in its opening shipwreck sequence, where the ensemble cast use physical movement, costume and fans to conjure up a vision of storm and fire onboard the King of Naples’ ship. And although the strong impact of this is not repeated, the unique style remains throughout, with lighting and set design also combining to create this particular form of Korean magic.
What impresses most however is the charming appeal of the piece as a whole. With its enthusiastic performances; direction which nods to the fourth wall; and its colourfully creative design: Mokwha’s The Tempest casts an irresistible spell over Festival audiences and provides a rare opportunity to see an adaptation of Shakespeare through a very different cultural lens.
The Tempest runs until 16 Aug at the King’s Theatre. More details here.