It's purely due to unfortunate scheduling that this turns out only to be the second most refreshing and impressive Midsummer Night's Dream of recent weeks. Jung-Ung Yang's Korean version (first seen here on last year's Edinburgh Fringe) cannot match the revelations of Tim Supple's polyglot Indian/Sri Lankan offering earlier this month at Stratford-upon-Avon, but in any other year Yohangza Theatre Company's delightful 90-minute reimagining would be the high spot of a traditionally Dream-stuffed season.
Yang blends Shakespeare with characters and types from Korean folklore, and switches some genders along the way. The young lovers' tangle remains intact, but there is no Theseus/Hippolyta framework and no "rude mechanicals", except the old female herb-gatherer Ajumi, who takes Bottom's place, and is transformed into a pig. This is at the behest of Dot, the female chief of the dokkebi fairies; with the help of a pungent love-herb, Dot makes her husband Gabi fall in love with pig-Ajumi as punishment for his habitually wandering trousers. Oh, and Duduri, the equivalent of Puck, has become twins.
Despite these changes and the usual smattering of surtitling glitches, the story unfolds with complete clarity regardless of one's prior knowledge of the original. Some characteristics of Shakespeare's tale are developed delightfully: the business of Hermia's diminutive size leads her counterpart Byeok to break into English to complain about being called a midget, and then to launch into a martial-arts attack on Ick (Helena), complete with slo-mo flying drop-kicks and the accompaniment of traditional drumming. When the Duduris mock the mortals' entanglements, Dot remonstrates with them by parodying their formal yet gleeful sing-song vocal delivery. Ajumi, worried that the invisible spirits may be in the vicinity, remarks, "The best way to chase away the dokkebi is to pee", and some comic business follows which it might be best not to describe in detail. Sometimes it can be hard to digest the cultural relocation, especially when unintentionally bathetic lines are flashed up such as "At last, my sight has been filled by the star called Ick". But the company give as good as they get, deploying English stereotype when pig-Ajumi, ready to eat any old rubbish, professes a craving for fish and chips. This is a delightful, exhilarating Dream, eclipsed this summer only by an out-and-out vision.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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