It all kicked off nearly two weeks ago with a production of Venus and Adonis by South African company, Isango Ensemble, and since then Globe audiences have been treated to a remarkably diverse range of work, including a Russian Measure for Measure, a Hindi Twelfth Night and Richard III in Mandarin. I'll be seeing some of the remaining shows and sharing my thoughts about them and the festival as a whole via this blog over the next five weeks.
My first taste of the action was Seoul-based Yohangza Theatre Company's spirited telling of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In this production, which was first seen in the UK at the Barbican in 2006, the fairies were Dokkebi, mischevious goblins from Korean folklore. Titania and Oberon's roles had been reversed, Puck was represented by a pair of naughty twin spirits and Bottom was an old woman herb collector turned into a pig by the Fairy Queen. Theseus and Hippolyta, as well as the Mechanicals, were nowhere to be seen.
Director Yang Jung-Ung's production was fast-paced and funny. The flavour was resolutely Korean but Shakespeare's drama of romantic confusion and mischief remained entirely recognisable to a western audience, despite only a handful of surtitles providing brief scene synopses. There were a few jokes that went over the heads of non-Korean speakers in the audience, but the vast majority of the laughs were physical and therefore enjoyed by all.
The entire cast was brilliant to watch in this regard, but Kim Sang-bo and Jeon Jung-Yong as the Puck figure Duduri never missed a trick. Their facial expressions alone provoked peals of laughter; in full clowning mode, they had the Globe audience howling with delight. The whole ensemble also made good use of the theatre's unique layout to work the crowd, coming out into the yard to play with the enthusiastic standees, while not forgetting to engage with the audience in the galleries.
With its impressive choreography (by Lee Yun-Jung), joyful moments of comedy and simple storytelling, it's no surprise that this colourful production has gone down so well both at home in Korea and internationally.
Next up was last night's Cymbeline in Juba Arabic, a production overbrimming with political, historical and cultural significance. It was the first international production from the South Sudan Theatre Company, a group specially formed for Globe to Globe just months after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011.
Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare's lesser performed plays, is set in Britain at the time of the Celts, but there's plenty in the story that speaks to South Sudanese culture. Warfare, magic and battles over inheritance all abound in a complex plot that revolves around a secret marriage between Imogen, King Cymbeline's only daughter, and her commoner lover Posthumus. Aside from the drumming and dancing that book-ended the performance, however, there was little in the production that marked it out as particularly South Sudanese. Staging was traditional, unadventurous even, with full weight given to the play's many lengthy monologues.
But although less immediately accessible to a international audience than A Midsummer Night's Dream, Derik Uya Alfred and Joseph Abuk's production (Abuk is billed as translator as well as co-director) shone when it came to the play's sillier moments. Korino Justin as Posthumus's servant Pisanio, and Buturs Peter, as the lothario Jackimo, both gave irreverant performances that lightened the occasionally ponderous plotting. The final scene, in which an implausible number of characters reveal their true identities and motives, bordered on hysteria, with the cast playing the comedy for all they were worth.
This may not have
been a sophisticated or polished telling of the play, but that didn't
matter. As the cast danced and ululated their way through several
curtain calls, the audience were swept up in the palpable joy of a theatre company representing their brand new nation on the
internataional stage for the first time. Last night's production is exactly what this festival is for.