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Romeo and Juliet review at Barbican Pit London

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The first visit to the UK by South Korea’s Mokhwa Repertory Company offers the chance to witness a colourful, exuberant and at times, thoroughly discombobulating version of Shakespeare’s most universal play. Blending easily recognisable bits of the Bard with elements drawn from Korean culture, the adaptation is both markedly familiar and very strange.

The production is the work of the company’s founder, director-dramatist Oh Tae-Suk, a legendary figure in Korean theatre who has evolved his own unique style of performance that draws on Brechtian alienation and the absurd as well as his country’s own traditions.

Oh’s highly stylised approach is apparent in the opening street brawl between the gangs of Capulet and Montague toughs, which becomes a ritualised martial-arts dance in which the adversaries face the audience rather than each other as they go through a series of graceful, exhilarating, synchronised moves.

Lee Do Hyun’s Mercutio clowns around before his tragic end, while Cho Eun A’s nurse verges on caricature. Elsewhere, a tender and romantic scene between the lovers abruptly turns into physical comedy when Romeo tries to remove Juliet’s sock.

In the end, however, this meeting of East and West doesn’t yield any fresh insights into Shakespeare’s play. The bitter divisions between North and South Korea may inform the feuding clans here, but countless other productions around the world can claim similar weight. Yet if the production fails to provide any new revelations, for jaded theatregoers who feel they’ve seen every approach possible to Shakespeare, Oh’s Romeo and Juliet is required viewing.

Production Information

Barbican Pit, London, November 23-December 9

Oh Tae-Suk, who also directs
Bae Jung Hae
Mokhwa Repertory Company
Cast includes
Kim Byung Cheol, Kim Mun Jung, Lee Do Hyun, Cho Eun A
Running time
1hr 30mins
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