Plays in Gwangju

If you have a chance, go see a play in Gwangju, even if you don’t understand Korean well. It’s a great way to learn about Korean values. Treat a Korean friend and when you have coffee after the play, talk about your interpretations of the play. You’ll learn things you can never fully appreciate by reading it on a blog or in a guidebook. I didn’t get to catch the Shakespearean plays that were held last month, but I do have some favorites to share with you to encourage to go see a play in Gwangju.

I’ve seen some unusual plays here in Gwangju. But they always seem to be rather heavy topics. I think my most favorite plays that I’ve seen here in Gwangju were during the 2009 Gwangju International Performing Arts Festival.

The talent and cleverness that went into this production is something that should be regularly presented to the public, like Nanta or The Last Empress. It is an astoundingly traditional yet modern Korean interpretation of Hamlet. The puppets, the buffoonery, the symbolic movement, the seamless incorporation of blues, jazz, accordions, and textiles can be deconstructed and critiqued, but words cannot fully convey the transformation of the set and props into the portrayal of Shakespeare’s archetypal themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption in Hamlet.


  • The funeral processions. Faintly Korean inspired elements of a dirge and parade.
  • Hamlet mask. Simple and scary, but able to evoke big feelings about Hamlet’s tragedy.
  • Folding Chair. One of the most clever uses of a folding chair portrayed the body of Hamlet.
  • Brilliantly accomplished puppeteering.
  • The storytellers lent an upscale patterning of Korea’s comedic gag variety shows.
  • Ophelia’s death scene. “Kicking the bucket” by the sound her mask made against the bucket.
  • Surprise, unfinished ending.

I hope this performance becomes another theatrical export of Korea. It is an amazing mix of entertainment of high and low art forms. Check out the full review on Koreamaria.

Production:공연창작집단 뛰다
Adapted / directed : 배요섭  (Major works – 하북이야기, 노래하듯이 햄릿, 할머니의 그림자 상자)
Composer / music director :한정림
Stage manager :이현주
Stage, puppet design :김경희
Costume Design : 이진희 , 채송화
Performers: 김수아, 최재영, 황혜란, 정현석


Human Comedy
A Chinese novel originally, it was turned into a Korean play. While the story line did not speak to me personally and I didn’t understand the title, interpreting it within my Korean context was pretty cool. The story was about families and how blood is more important than commitment in what makes a family a family.

The acting was extraordinary. The main character’s face was astounding in conveying the depth, innocence, confusion, anger, pain, humiliation, love, and sauciness of this father’s life journey. The set was minimalistic lending an austere air to the portrayal of this play set in rural China.

The howling of the unwanted son, “I’ll be your son for a bowl of noodles.”  was heartrending and pathetic. This enactment really tried to tug at Korea’s deep seated misguidance about children not being a full blooded relation. In Korea there is no responsibility to a child if it is not one’s own by blood. This boy was thought to be another’s man son. The wife (I won’t even go into the woman’s issues – the play curded my blood in how it treated women) was publicly shamed for her affair before she was married, and the boy’s real father, who never accepted him, had a wife venomous enough to be a snake.

This was a simplistic yet socially biting commentary on traditional family values and how they can destroy lives.


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