September 19, 2010

OzAsia Festival

Filed under: 2010,Archive

Attention- Matthew Westwood/ Rosemary Sorensen
Reviews Editor, The Australian
September 18.

OzAsia Festival
Adelaide Festival Centre
September 17- October 2.
Bookings : BASS 131 246

By William Shakespeare
Yohangza Theatre Company
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
September 16.

Dialogue in Skin
Hands Percussion
Her Majesty’s Theatre
September 17.

Now in its fourth year, the Adelaide Festival Centre’s OzAsia Festival, this time, has a focus on Korea. And the first weekend has opened auspiciously with the Yohangza Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet. Directed by  Jung-Ung Yang, this fresh and inventive interpretation, like the company’s previous version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, draws on traditional Korean mysticism and shamanism to reinterpret a familiar work through an intercultural perspective.

Just as the dark mischief of Oberon’s fairies found startling connections in Korean sorcery in the Dream, so the disturbed and haunted kingdom of Denmark also suits such parallels. Performed in Korean with English surtitles the text is a sprightly blend of Shakespeare and plain declaration. Hamlet’s “ How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world” becomes : “why do we grunt and sweat under a weary life.” But, when looking to the young mop-haired Hamlet (the excellent Jung-Yong Jeon) in his white silk tunic, we recognize, that in either version, these are the exaggerated words of an unworldly dilettante.

We see Hamlet in his various guises – bitter to his mother, derisory of his uncle Claudius (compellingly played by Hae-Kyun Cheong), feigning madness to a managerial-looking Polonius (Jin-Gon Kim) and flippantly cruel to a convincingly heartbroken Ophelia (Seung-Hae Nam).

The performances, on a large sisal mat with accompanying flute and drum musicians, are accomplished and psychologically vivid, but what gives this production even greater impact are the three Shamanic “gut”  ceremonies to settle and purify unquiet spirits – the first for the ghost of Hamlet’s father, then later the ill-fated Ophelia and, finally, after a splendidly stylized fatal duel with Laertes, the voyage of Hamlet’s spirit through the beckoning hands of those many in the play whose deaths have preceded him.  It brings a ceremony to the tragedy which Western theatre usually registers only as chaos and mayhem. In this deftly adapted, chamber version, the Yohangza Company reminds us that, with Hamlet, the play is still the thing.

Also in the weekend’s festival, directed by Goh Seang Heong , the Malaysian Hands Percussion company presented Dialogue in Skin, a hyperkinetic program of Chinese “taiko-style” drumming by a troupe of ten highly choreographed young performers. Despite the impressive efforts of stage leader, Chin Chun Ket,  the colourful routines  began to prove repetitive. The inclusion of gamelan instruments and briefly, a sitar, provided welcome variation later in the program but, the energetic zeal of the company, notwithstanding, this dialogue of skin remained a limited conversation.

Murray Bramwell

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