Korean company Cho-in Theatre has condensed Macbeth to an intense hour of solo theatre performed by a female and male actor, Lee Sang-hee and Hwang Min-hyung, on alternate days. At the performance I saw, Lee Sang-hee gave a performance of intense physicality, a supreme feat of clowning.
Using four blue boxes laid out in a square on the floor, and a handful of props, Lee transformed herself into Shakespeare’s characters, sometimes with a hat, sometimes with a shift in posture and expression. In a stroke of theatrical genius, Lady Macbeth is revealed to be a tiny, coquettish, pink finger puppet.
There’s something reminiscent of Kathryn Hunter in the mixture of playfulness and immense technical skill of Lee’s performance. Her energy seems ocean-deep. She hops from box to box. She enacts a fight scene single-handed, a powder keg, a jack-in-the box. By the end, her shirt is drenched in sweat.
Director and designer Park Cheong-euy’s staging is simple but it puts the focus firmly on the performer’s embodiment of the role – this is a very bodily performance – as well as the mechanics and demands of the solo show: a performance about performance.
There’s a sense both of the actor becoming possessed by the text, and of a child at play, galloping around on an invisible horse.
It is always fascinating to watch Shakespeare filtered through different cultural lenses, the way something so familiar can be endlessly reshaped and remade.