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Two takes on 'Macbeth': Classic with contemporary mis-en-scene by Yang Jung-woong

June 2, 2024 - 16:10 By Hwang Dong-hee

This summer, the National Theater of Korea will host two distinct renditions of Shakespeare's “Macbeth,” bringing both classic and contemporary flavors to the stage.

The Shakespearean tragedy tells the story of 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.

From left, actors Song Il-gook, Kim So-jin, Hwang Jung-min and director Yang Jung-woong pose for a group photo after a press conference held at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul, on May 10. (SEM Company)

Helmed by renowned director Yang Jung-woong, the SEM Company's production starring veteran actors Hwang Jung-min, Kim So-jin and Song Il-gook, is set to perform at the National Theater of Korea's Haeoreum Theater from July 13 to Aug. 18.

A Shakespeare specialist, Yang, whose career also includes a role as artistic director for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, has directed the bard's work in venues around the world, including London's Barbican Centre and Shakespeare’s Globe.

"'Macbeth' carries themes that are relevant to modern audiences," Yang said at a recent press conference. "It vividly portrays the inescapable downfall that follows ambition, along with the sense of loss, guilt and moral conflict that come afterward."

Yang said he previously experimented with a Korean re-interpretation of “Macbeth” in 2004. This time, he aims to stay focused on the original's poetic language, while incorporating a contemporary mise-en-scene to “recreate a modern wasteland of desire, replete with eerie, occult-like settings.”

Posters for "Macbeth" featuring actors Hwang Jung-min (left) as Macbeth and Kim So-jin as Lady Macbeth. (SEM Company)

Hwang, who recently won best actor at the 60th Baeksang Arts Awards for his role as the head of the Defense Security Command Chun Doo-gwang in the historical film “12.12: The Day” (also known as “Seoul's Spring” in Korean) is returning to the stage for the first time since his performance in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” in 2022.

“To put it simply, it is a story about a district mayor who becomes greedy to become president and then digs his own grave. Macbeth reaches his end and before his death, he asks, 'Why did I come this far?’” Hwang said.

The character draws parallels to his roles such as Chun in “12.12: The Day,” Park Sung-bae in the crime-noir “Asura: The City of Madness” (2016) and Jeon Yo-hwan in the Netflix series “Narco-Saints.”

"The more I play these ambitious characters, the more challenging it becomes," Hwang said. "Yet, it’s an exciting challenge to portray a new aspect of desire and ambitions through Macbeth."

Joining Hwang, actor Kim will play Lady Macbeth, who urges her husband to seize the throne, while Song will take on the role of Banquo, Macbeth's loyal comrade who becomes a threat after receiving his own prophecy from the witches.