Dohyun Gracia Shin

[Theatre Review] Trojan Women Presented by National Changgeuk Company of Korea 본문

Theatre Reviews/Eng

[Theatre Review] Trojan Women Presented by National Changgeuk Company of Korea

Gracia Shin 2017. 12. 7. 21:36

Trojan Women Presented by National Changgeuk Company of KoreaNewly Written for Changgeuk by Sam-sik Bae. Music by Jae-il Jung. Pansori composed by Sook-sun Ahn. Directed by Ong Keng Sen. National Theatre, Seoul, Korea. 22 November 2017 ~ 3 December 2017.

             The fascinating hybridism of the National Changgeuk Company of Korea has been encored back to the stage. Trojan Women (2016) adapts the well-known Greek tragedy, Euripides’ The Trojan Women into the form of Korean traditional theatre, Changgeuk, and one actor storytelling performance, pansori. Ong Keng Sen, the director invited from Singapore, accomplishes cultural transfusion by playing in-between. He further achieves his objectives of hybridity—preserving the core of tradition in a novel form.


Form of Hybridity

             On the stage of minimalization, Ong Keng Sen opens up the elements which he finds essential of pansori—a storyteller with only one drummer—, by stripping off elements of European opera or American musical from changgeuk. He leaves actors on the white, bare stage with a grandiose architect on the centre, which can be interpreted in various ways up to the context and audience (a womb, sailing ship, prison and etc). There, he pairs each actor to their individual instruments in the minimalised format of pansori, but leaves a room of variation. As a matriarchal figure of her newly constructed community of devastated Troy, Hecuba's majestic but desperate voice is expressed through a grave echo of geomungo, six-stringed Korean zither. The high-pitched windy sound of Daegum (Korean traditional pipe) speaks for Cassandra and her curse on Athenes. Helen’s in-betweenness is coiled with the heterogenous sound of a piano, the only non-Korean instrument in Trojan Women. This minimalization seems to achieve Ong Keng Sen’s intention: “hearing afresh the words which have sometimes been submerged in dynamic music.”

             Within the minimalized format of Changgeuk and pansori, Ong Keng Sen blends Greek tragedy. The ensemble of chang (singing of changgeuk/pansori) works as a chorus of Greek tragedy and also does a dochang (a narrator of changgeuk), explaining the scene and suggesting an opinion on the situation. In this context, characters perform their agon by exchanging lines of chang.

Hybridised Contents

             By adapting Euripides’ The Trojan Women from their contemporary perspective, Trojan Women amplifies and variates women's voice which Euripides has given in his play.

             It is notable that Trojan Women highlights the gender binary by embellishing the original script of The Trojan Women. The revised script and direction put an edge on Cassandra (who was a mouthpiece of Apollo, the god of sun and logic) by illustrating as a fiery guerrilla of Troy. The queen Hecuba strives to protect her matriarchal community as a new leader in the perished Troy without men ("who died in the men’s battle"). In this devastating situation, which assails the left women, Hecuba curses Zeus and the other gods of Olympus, seeking help from the Mother Earth. On the top of the grandiose architect, she faces their doomed fate--which she says was given by the men--with her community, which almost seems like a parody of a male hero’s solemn tragedy.

             With this revised amplification of women's voice, Trojan Women also variates women's voices by introducing a range of their different opinions and by presenting genderqueer Helen. Sam-sik Bae, the playwright, preserves and at the same time edits various voices that are “recorded by Euripides” “[resonating with our lives today in spite of the thousands of years’ difference.” For instance, a chorus is divided into two groups—ladies and slaves—, creating new agon of class differences. This chorus with heterogeneous voices also shares agons not only with male characters but also with main female characters like Hecuba, Andromache and Cassandra. Bae sharpens the agon between Hecuba and Andromache, creating a sharp difference of perspectives. By this adaption, the variation of women's voice is further accentuated in Trojan Women, suggesting heterogeneity within a gender group. There is no single “woman-ness” in Trojan Women.

Moreover, Ong Keng Sen queers Helen by casting a male actor Junsu Kim as Helen. With pageantry makeup and a non-gender-specific dress, Helen shows their genderqueer aspects which may represent Helen’s in-betweenness. Helen is on the threshold: Menelaus and Paris; Sparta and Troy; worship and condemn. That in-betweenness is physicalised by actor’s androgenic appearance. When golden-decorated beautiful Helen opens their mouth, the stout voice of chang dominates the stage, merging with a sound of a piano, the only non-Korean instrument. Kim’s crafty portrayal of overly-feminised gestures adds a final stroke on genderqueer Helen.


             Throughout their history, the National Changgeuk Company of Korea has continuously challenged themselves to preserve and innovate changgeuk, the art in-between: western opera/musical and traditional pansori; tradition and contemporary; regular manias and newcomers. In this context, Trojan Women can indeed be seen their accomplishment: a distinctive changgeuk playing between traditional format and contemporary concerns, and accentuating and at the same time twisting gender binary.

*Photos from National Theatre of Korea

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