You get the feeling that nationalist politics are never far removed from Korean director Tae-Suk Oh’s extraordinary vision of The Tempest, currently in residence at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. It’s a lavish commingling of Shakespeare’s play with the Korean history epic The Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms.
"Please turn us into ducks; we want to go sightseeing in the north," intones a character near the end – pretty well out of nowhere. You begin to see where the production is supposed to lead you. The Chronicles themselves were the product of a twelfth century king’s desire to promote the concept of a unified kingdom of Korea.
Perhaps fortunately, this is not a dimension likely to resonate much with British audiences. We are left free to marvel at the spectacle, one of the longest versions of the storm scene you are ever likely to see, a funny two-headed Caliban, whose merciful release comes in the separation of his two bodies, a cheeky dig in the invaluable surtitles at the British obsession with crispy Peking duck (so that's what they think about us) and a break-dancing shaman to give any contestant on So You Think You Can Dance a long run for his or her money.
This is a visually rich and impressive spectacle that had the Edinburgh audience, and your reviewer, enraptured for 90 short minutes. What it adds to our understanding of the play, or ourselves, is more debatable. The message remains directed at its home public, for whom it may not be all that subtle. But you’re unlikely to see a performance of The Tempest like this again, so you are recommended to go and marvel, if you can get a ticket.