Shakespearean classics get modern touches and twists

By Korea Herald

Unique versions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘King Lear’ to be staged in Seoul

  • Published : Dec 11, 2012 - 19:19
  • Updated : Dec 11, 2012 - 20:36
A promotional image of the upcoming play “Romeo and Juliet.” (The National Theater of Korea)
Shakespearean plays are nothing new or special to the local theater goers, as they’ve been staged countless times in different versions and genres.

This winter, however, Seoulites are being offered unique versions of two popular Shakespeare plays: “Romeo and Juliet” and “King Lear.”

“Romeo and Juliet” is the National Theater of Korea’s ambitious project with the National Theatre Company of China. Viewers will be able to see the young star-crossed lovers going through China’s turbulent Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), instead of the family disputes in Verona, Italy.

Local theater director Koh Sun-woong, best known for his 2011 play “Azure Day,” is making a comeback with a parallel version of Shakespearean tragedy “King Lear.”

The show is in fact titled “King Rear,” as the king literally carries his belongings in a handcart after losing all of his wealth and house to his cruel daughters. Handcarts are often referred as “rear-cars” in Korea.

Both shows offer original perspectives and interpretation of the Shakespearean classics, with much humor and modern twists and tweaks.

‘Romeo and Juliet’

The National Theater of Korea started working on the project with the National Theatre Company of China last year. The show is performed by an all-Korean cast and a Chinese director.

It is directed by Tian Qinxin, one of the very few female directors in China. According to the National Theater of Korea, it was Tian’s idea to do a love story for the project as it was scheduled to be staged during the holiday season.

The initial script, inspired by Shakespeare’s original, was written by Chinese playwright Lei Ting, after the actors and actresses were selected through an audition in Seoul in May.

The finished script was then translated into Korean by scholar Hong Young-rim, and was again edited by local playwright Goh Yeon-ok.

Though the story takes place in China’s turbulent past, the tone of the piece is often humorous and full of youthful energy, said Sohn Shin-hyoung, one of the local producers of the show.

“Theater is a very popular genre among the Chinese public,” Shin said during a phone interview with The Korea Herald.

“Director Tian was clear from the very beginning that this play was going to be fun and entertaining. And the play isn’t about the Cultural Revolution; it’s about love and growing up in times of great turbulence and transition.”

The show’s costume and stage design will be also highly experimental, according to the National Theater of Korea. All of the costumes will have Chinese touches, inspired by the way Chinese youngsters dressed during the revolutionary era of the 60s.

“Both love and youth can be very extreme and radical,” said Tian through the National Theater of Korea.

“There is no middle ground. You constantly experience two extreme ends. Sometimes you feel as if you have everything in the world, and then feel like you are all alone by yourself the next minute. What I want to explore with this play is the very nature of love.”

“Romeo and Juliet” runs from Dec. 20 to 29 at the National Theater of Korea in Jangchung-dong, Seoul. The show has never been staged in China, and is being premiered first in the upcoming run in Seoul.

English and Chinese subtitles will be available.

All tickets cost 20,000 won. For more information, call 1544-1555.
The official poster of the upcoming play “King Rear” (LG Arts Center)

‘King Rear’

Local director Koh Sun-woong is known for his original use of humor in tragic theater works. One of his award-winning works, “Azure Day,” is an example.

The play dealt with Korea’s 1980 Gwangju pro-democracy movement, and told the story of a middle-aged Buddhist monk who participated in the uprising and was brutally tortured by the authorities upon his arrest. In spite of the show’s tragic narrative, Koh managed to create humorous moments in between the scenes.

Koh is trying to do the same for his upcoming play, which is a parallel version of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy “King Lear.”

Koh’s “King Rear” takes place in the modern world, though it’s unclear whether the characters are living the U.K. or in Korea. However, there are many local references of “hyo,” filial duty, as the hapless king loses all of his wealth and property to his children.

In Koh’s play, the king is much younger than the one in original. The king’s youngest daughter Cordelia is also portrayed as a bubbly and cheeky young woman, though she keeps quiet when asked to profess her love for her father ― just like the one in the original. The play is filled with humorous moments, though its plot eventually ends in tragedy, said LG Arts Center which is staging the play.

Also in Koh’s version, the king ends up in a shelter for the homeless elderly, after living on the streets while carrying his belongings in a handcart. Koh’s ending, which pivots around the king’s revenge, is also significantly different from the original, though equally if not more tragic.

“King Rear” runs from Dec. 12 to Dec. 28 at LG Arts Center in central Seoul. Tickets range from 30,000 won to 70,000 won. For more information, call (02) 2005-0114.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)