Peer Gynt – OzAsia Festival 2012

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre in Association with AsiaNow Productions
Reviewed Thursday 20th September 2012

Yohangza Theatre Company has appeared in Adelaide twice before, with Shakespeare’s plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2007) and Hamlet (2010). Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 five act, forty scene play, Peer Gynt, gets the Yohangza treatment this time. This production won Best Production, Best Director and Best Stage Design at the Korea Theatre Awards 2009, and it was easy to see why. Scraps of conversation overheard during the interval and after the performance revealed that the audience loved this production and were thoroughly engaged with it.

Artistic Director, Jung-Ung Yang, has taken Ibsen’s epic poem and updated it, blending it with Korean folklore  and mythology. Ibsen’s Peer begins by telling a tale of riding a reindeer, where this version substitutes a boar, and towards the end of the play Ibsen’s character returns home by sailing ship, replaced in this version by a first class section of an aircraft doomed to crash.

Set designer, Il Jin Im and, lighting designer, Kook Koon Yeo, combine their efforts to overcome the challenge of staging Ibsen’s play which has around forty scenes, some realistic, some surreal, by setting the entire work in a large sandpit, like a children’s playground, with a bathtub, ladders, tricycle, supermarket trolleys, and other paraphernalia that the actors transform through their performances. To the rear is a huge, angled screen made up of large mirrors, reflecting an aerial view of the actors, as well as the audience. The amazing costumes, and Yunhui Jun’s very effective makeup, combine to create a huge range of characters, played by only fifteen performers.

As in their previous production, those members of the cast not involved in the action at any particular time appear on the rear sides of the stage playing the live music, primarily tuned percussion, rather than the cymbals, gongs, and drums of earlier productions. Recorded music is also used, especially at times of frenetic action or emotionally charged passages, and references are made to Edvard Greig’s incidental music written for early performances of the original play.

The cast is universally superb, as we have come to expect with this company. Haekyun Cheong takes the role of Peer Gynt, hardly ever leaving the stage, and aging considerably during the play. His performance is captivating, from the young man, who is an inveterate liar and womaniser, through all of the other worldly sequences, where he becomes initiated as a troll, to the war mongering arms dealer and people smuggler, as a mature man, to old age, where he is facing death and forced to reconsider his life.

Cheongim Kang plays Solveig, the woman who truly loves him and has remained faithful to him throughout the years, and whom he has abandoned and forgotten. She brings a marvellous gentleness and constancy to her role, and, at the poignant moment when they are reunited, she seems to glow with her love for Peer.

There is so much to recommend this production and anybody who saw their past productions will need no urging. If you have never seen this group before, you should see this production. Book through BASS as fast as you can, if there are any tickets remaining.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

OzAsia Festival web site

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 7:30pm Friday 2012
Duration: 3hrs (incl intvl)
Tickets: Adults$45/conc $40/Students $25
Bookings: BASS131 246 or here

Suitable: 15+ years
In Korean with English surtitles
Warning: Nudity and coarse language

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