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Turtle Company at Edinburgh Fringe: The South Koreans creating ‘analogue’ theatre

Lottie Davies, Marc Zayat, Adam Elliott and Antonia Draper. Photo: Alex Brenner Lottie Davies, Marc Zayat, Adam Elliott and Antonia Draper. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Nick Awde speaks to Turtle Company’s British co-director Stevan Mijailovic about bringing its children’s show Joyce to the Edinburgh Fringe

South Korea’s Turtle Company produces a range of shows from family musicals to classical fusion opera. Its offering for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe is Joyce, a play about characters who fall into a book and encounter puppets, a giant hamster and an abundance of conjuring while learning a moral at the finale.

It’s a complex but fun show that reflects the company’s proactive aim to look internationally and create work without borders. Joyce is a good example with a creative team that numbers two Koreans, a Brit and an American in its ranks.

“At any one time in our rehearsal process and production previews there have been at least three languages spoken in the room,” says Stevan Mijailovic, who co-directs with  Yossef K Junghan.

It’s been a unique show in many ways, he adds. “This show is different for us as directors because it is our first experience of directing family theatre. And while Turtle has produced many family shows, this play has been specifically written and crafted for young audiences and their parents without compromising quality.”

In the UK, Mijailovic has been working in outreach for the Kiln and Unicorn theatres in London, while Junghan has come from a large budget K-pop version of Grease at the D-Cube Arts Centre in Seoul.

Writers David Couter and  Sungye Suk are from the US and South Korea respectively, and there’s additional creative input from magician and performer Minsoo Park, also from South Korea.

In telling the tale of a father who has lost his way in a world full of phones and constant distractions, Joyce is a response to global chaos. “It speaks about the importance of stopping and remembering what matters and what makes for a happy life,” says Mijailovic. “With this in mind, we aimed to give the play a ‘stylistically analogue’ feel.

“Our music is composed and recorded by actual musicians with  real instruments. Our set is made by  a carpenter and our costumes are hand-painted. Our stage magic uses no modern technology, and the play itself is a classic tale.”

The result is a piece of theatre that its creators proudly call “an oasis in a sea of technology”.

Developing Joyce and taking it to Edinburgh has been the focus of this year for both directors and they intend to use the festival as a springboard to take it further.

Mijailovic will be developing the puppetry side of the production in preparation for an international puppetry festival in 2020. Junghan, however, moves first to co-directing the musical Big Fish in Seoul with Scott Schwartz, son of composer-lyricist Stephen.

The play will receive a huge boost from playing to Edinburgh audiences. “The fringe is special because it offers up an amalgamation of people from all sorts of places. We have also loved local families bringing their children and enjoying our work.”

As a Brit working on an international production, Mijailovic finds himself sensitive to the wider cost implications of putting on a show at Edinburgh. “It is a genuine shame that artists with fewer finances are being priced out of the fringe, as it is here that people from all walks of life should be able to come and express themselves and show their craft.”

Joyce runs at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh until August 26

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