September 24, 2012

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt

September 19, 2012

OzAsia Festival
Adelaide Festival Centre
September 14 – 30.

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt
Adapted by Jung-Ung Yang
Yohangza Theatre Company
Dunstan Playhouse. September 19.
Tickets: $ 35- 40. Bookings : BASS 131 246
Until September 21.

Now in its sixth year, the Adelaide Festival Centre’s OzAsia program has not only introduced some outstanding productions from the Asia Pacific region but established continuing links with individual companies. Prominent among them is the Yohangza Theatre Company from South Korea who have visited previously with an intriguing adaptation of A Midsummer Nights Dream, followed, in 2010, with an outstanding version of Hamlet.

This time they have matched their best with a fresh look at Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 Norwegian classic, Peer Gynt, an epic work that is a curious blend of folktale, satire, dream play and social comment. Director and writer Jung-Ung Yang has again taken a Western classic and revitalized it with Korean elements which both reframe and illuminate its meaning.

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is a vagabond, a fabulist, an opportunist and a mother’s boy and this production takes the play’s themes of egotism and narcissism to also explore the amoral corporate self-interest of the 21st century. With the motto he picks up from his clash with the Mountain Trolls – “be satisfied with yourself” Peer moves from being a careless seducer of village brides to becoming, briefly, a tycoon, made wealthy from arms dealing and human trafficking. At the end of the play the only thing to rescue him from his mortal fate is the constant devotion of Solveig, his abandoned, but ever vigilant, beloved.

Director Jung-Ung Yang and designer Il Jin Im have literally created a playground for Peer’s escapades – a giant sandpit with brightly coloured monkey bars, ladders, toddler bikes and a blue bathtub all reflected back to us with a mosaic of mirrors at the rear of the stage.

It is here that Peer recounts his improbable stories to his doting mother in the affectionate opening scenes, and it is also the setting for the boisterous wedding party, the horny young cowherd girls with their fantastical wildflower-decorated hair, and the Hall of the Mountain King, with his green taffeta daughter and his post-punk troll retinue, complete with fright wigs, goggle-eyed sunglasses, disposable diapers and wagging tails.

The music and sound, an artful blend of orchestral recording, solo instruments, drums and techno, includes excerpts from Edvard’s Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite – for many, more familiar than the play itself.

The performances from the cast of thirteen are as exuberant as they are expertly drilled. Cheong Im Kang is memorable as the steadfast Solveig and, as Peer Gynt, Hae Kyun Cheong effortlessly carries the production with wit, warmth and dazzling invention. Captivating us for nearly three hours this production matches its theatrics with intelligence, precision – and, in the final scene, a profound humanity. It is like an imaginary ride on Peer Gynt’s famous black steed.

Murray Bramwell

“Korean elements reframe the meanings of a Norwegian classic”, The Australian, September 21, 2012, p.14.

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