The Korea Herald


Two takes on 'Macbeth': Barrier-free through sign language, pansori

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : June 2, 2024 - 16:21

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National Theater of Korea's in-house production of National Theater of Korea's in-house production of "Macbeth" (National Theater of Korea)

The National Theater of Korea is set to premiere a barrier-free adaptation of "Macbeth" that intertwines Korean sign language and pansori, a traditional Korean musical storytelling.

The NTOK’s in-house production is scheduled to be performed at the National Theater of Korea's Daloreum Theater in Jung-gu from June 13-16 before heading to France for a performance in July.

The story brings six deaf actors playing the key characters in sign language, while four pansori singers narrate the drama on stage.

"Many people describe sign language as beautiful and warm," said director Kim Mi-ran. "I wanted to juxtapose this by presenting a work like 'Macbeth,' which is a cold and brutal story."

The Shakespearean tragedy follows the Scottish general Macbeth who, driven by a prophecy from three witches, murders the king to ascend the throne, only to spiral into madness and ruin.

Poster for the National Theater of Korea's in-house production of Poster for the National Theater of Korea's in-house production of "Macbeth" (National Theater of Korea)

Set against the backdrop of a modern Korean butcher's family at a funeral, the story shifts the original fight for the Scottish throne to a fatal conflict over inheritance.

In particular, the Three Witches who hail Macbeth and predict his ascent to kingship, are transformed into a shaman who makes prophecies. Yet, the director noted the tragedy will stem from the intrinsic nature of the characters, particularly Macbeth, rather than from the supernatural.

The adaptation connects the play’s major monologues through 16 scenes, blending the visual performance of the deaf actors with the auditory performance of pansori. Shakespeare’s poetic rhythm and meter will be conveyed through sign language and movement. For example, the sign for "death," a key motif in the play, is repeatedly shown alongside movement, mirroring the repetition.

The dead characters pile up on the stage, having killed each other without leaving, creating a relentless stage where life and death are intertwined, slowly marching toward the ultimate tragedy.

The music is composed by Lee Hyang-ha, head of the Ip Koa Son Studio, a pansori creative group. Korean subtitles will also be provided for the audience.

Following its run in Seoul, "Macbeth" will be showcased at the 2024 International Sign Language Arts Festival (The Festival Clin d’Oeil) in France on July 4 and 5, bringing this unique interpretation to a wider international audience.