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Reviewed by:
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare
  • Jae Kyoung Kim
KING LEAR. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Tadashi Suzuki. Arko Arts Theatre, Seoul. 8–9 October 2013.

Tadashi Suzuki’s famous metaphor—the world as a mental hospital and people as patients—has been consistently remarked on since the premiere of his original production of The Tale of Lear in 1984; the same production, now called King Lear and staged in Seoul in October 2013, continued to evoke this proposition. Usually, in Suzuki’s multinational productions, the many languages onstage hardly enter the spotlight because the actors’ bodies, rigorously trained by the Suzuki method of actor training, surpass the need for verbal communication. However, Suzuki’s 2013 King Lear, produced as a Japanese and Korean version, differed from previous productions, in that it created a novel dramatic mode of confrontation resulting from the linguistic disjunction between two languages.

Considering that the BeSeTo (Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo) Theatre Festival was the first attempt by Asian artists to promote cultural communication among three East Asian countries, Suzuki’s presentation of The Tale of Lear at the first BeSeTo Theatre Festival in Seoul (1994) would have been memorable for Suzuki himself. This memory motivated him to restage the production with Japanese and Korean performers to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the festival. The original all-male Japanese cast recalled the conventions of Elizabethan theatre and of traditional Japanese Noh and Kabuki at the same time. In addition, it used a double frame: a nurse reading a book of King Lear to his old patient who waited to die in a hospital; the old man and the nurse subsequently became Lear and his Fool. Suzuki’s use of this technique served to build a bridge between past and present and East and West. The 2013 King Lear was also based on this double frame. Interestingly, however, it omitted the opening scene that first established the relationship between patient and nurse; in the omitted scene, the nurse had pushed the old man onstage in a wheelchair before reading to him. The 2013 production began without preamble, with Lear’s announcement of his plan to step down from the throne and each daughter’s [End Page 452]

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Yu-jeong Byeon (Goneril), Kiyosumi Niihori (Lear), and ensemble in King Lear.

(Photo: Sang-hoon Ok. Courtesy of the SPAF.)

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Seong-won Yi (Gloucester), Kiyosumi Niihori (Lear), and ensemble in King Lear.

(Photo: Sang-hoon Ok. Courtesy of the SPAF.)

[End Page 453]

declaration of her love for him. It then proceeded to Gloucester’s conversation with Edmund. Accordingly, it was only when the nurse later appeared onstage to bring food for the old man that the audience belatedly realized the existence of the double frame.

The 2013 production gave more weight to the conflict of interest within the two families, a clash between young and old, as a forsaken older generation with a desolate fate was confronted by an aggressive younger generation. An authoritarian Lear was abandoned in a wheelchair by avaricious Goneril and Regan, while a commanding Gloucester was soon fooled and blinded by Edmund’s plot. Although there were a few good characters, such as Cordelia, her role was considerably marginalized, with only a few lines at the beginning of the show. In addition, the loyal Kent was absent in Suzuki’s production.

The confrontations between young and old were thrown into sharper relief by the bi-national cast’s bilingual speech. To all appearances, the actors seemed to share a single nationality, since it is hard to see physical differences between Japanese and Koreans. However, the competing narrations between a Japanese Lear (Kiyosumi Niihori) and his Korean daughters Goneril (Yu-jeong Byeon) and Regan (Seon-hui Bak) created an acoustic discord that underscored their inability to communicate with each other despite their ethnic resemblance. The insincere flattery that Japanese Edmund (Takato Hiragaki) offered to Korean Gloucester (Seong-won Yi) also highlighted the communicational dissonance. Although the performers conversed in their native language at a fairly rapid pace, as though assuming that they understood one another, this pairing of different languages created an...


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pp. 452-454
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