Modl Theatre (from Korea) – A Romance (at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 and in London)

Update on 27.August.2013: a one night only performance in London at 19:00 on Friday 30 August 2013. The venue is:
Korean Cultural Centre UK, Grand Buildings, 1 – 3 Strand, London WC2N 5BW
the entrance is on Northumberland Avenue and under five minutes walk from Trafalgar Square. The London performance is free, but you should register with the KCC by email or telephone 020-7004-260: if you want to be sure of your place being confirmed it may be better to telephone.

Quotes on Twitter from someone who was also performing at the Fringe and who saw the show on my recommendation – Anh Chu @AnhChuWriter:
* “Saw ‘A Romance’ @colinb8. Mind. Blown. What a stunning show! Thanks for the recommend!! #EdFringe”
* “Cool @colinb8 Def gonna check A Romance out in London too!”
* “Londoners – please watch this beautiful Korean show ‘A Romance’ this Friday! SO good!”
* “@colinb8 @sargent65 I haven’t met the Modl Theatre people but hope to. Can’t wait to see ‘A Romance’ again!”
* From @sargent65: “@AnhChuWriter @colinb8 Wasn’t it so good to see such strong, delicate, humorous, sensual performances from an all-female cast? (plus man!)”
* From @AnhChuWriter: “@sargent65 @colinb8 Yes, agreed – am all for strong and funny females, in art, and in life!”

Philip Gowman’s review at and his recommendation of the London performance.

See below the “background” for more details – a summary is that this is a very good piece with very high production values achieved by simple and very effective means – one might say that it is subtle, and in parts very exuberant. And although it isn’t a dance piece, I think it is correct to speak of the show’s good choreography.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** a bit of background to this post

In August.2010 Modl Theatre were due to give a one only afternoon performance at the Korean Cultural Centre (KCC) in London of their show for children (and adults!) “The Dandelion’s Story”. By then I knew the company, and I was rather concerned that they might not get the full house they richly deserved. So I emailed and “facebooked” several people whom I had seen perform and whom I thought might be interested and might be in London.

Those I didn’t know personally (most of them!) got a message saying “You don’t know me but I saw you in X, and you might be interested in this show being given in London later this week”, adding a few details about the show.

In the event, the auditorium was packed, partly due to a large contingent of Korean families with small children, so my concerns proved unfounded. But I got at least two takers (someone I knew personally, and a Korean contemporary dancer whom I didn’t know – when she arrived at the KCC she met someone working there who she’d been at school with and whom she hadn’t seen for years!), and at least one reply saying regrettably can’t be there, which led to me seeing a very good performance about four months later (but that’s another story).

So this is me doing something similar for this weeks London performance by Modl Theatre!

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“A Romance” was in Edinburgh at 16:05 each day (lasts 50 minutes) until Monday 26 August 2013, at the C venue in the Adam House in Chambers Street.

It will be in London for one night only at 19:00 on Friday 30 August 2013 in the Korean Cultural Centre (KCC) which is very close to Trafalgar Square. The London performance is free, but you should register with the KCC by email or telephone 020-7004-2600.

Here is Philip Gowman’s brief review at

Here are my views:

I saw this twice in Edinburgh, and intend to see it again in London. (Bias alert: I know the company slightly, after seeing their work nine or ten times between 2008 and 2013, seeing each production two or three times. So I’m familiar with their work, and am pre-disposed towards it. But from the quotes and reviews by others, you can see it’s not just me that thinks “A Romance” is very good.)

A hint: arrive early for some pre-show stuff, and sit near the front, and maybe best to be on the right hand side so the surtitles are on your far left. (The sightlines are tricky if you sit at the back, plus a lot of the time the performers are sitting, and the rake of the audience seating is quite shallow.)

The hints on where to sit were for the Edinburgh performance space. The KCC performance space in London is smaller and has a steeper rake, so the sightlines should be much less of a problem. Also I don’t know where the surtitles will be in London. (Or whether there will be surtitles in London. But if there aren’t any surtitles in London, as long as you know the fairly simple plot beforehand, that won’t be a problem.)

Some quick notes after seeing this for the first time just over two hours ago. I will try to write a proper review later, and I will definitely see this again this year, possibly twice or three times again. If I use a stars system to “rate” shows (and I don’t – I prefer my words to speak for themselves) it would be “five stars out of five”.

After the performance a man just behind me turned to his companions and said “charming”. I don’t think that word is wrong, but I think “A Romance” is much more than that. But if we consider that “charming” can mean magical and beguiling then his comment gives quite a good indication of this piece’s qualities. (When he used the word “charming” he was very definitely being complimentary.)

In Philip Gowman’s brief review he uses the word “enchanting”. Again, I think the word isn’t wrong, but that the piece is much more than that word implies.

(Note to persuade Donald Hutera to go: one of the actors is the woman who played the mother hen (and, I think, also the dog?) in The Dandelion Story. After today’s performance I spoke with some members of the company and she said she’d recognised me in the audience.)

For now, very brief notes made about a hour after the performance:
* story telling, both speaking and singing – in part very similar to the wonderful Korean storytelling art form of Pansori
* dancing while sitting on the floor, so dancing with their arms and upper bodies (and I really do mean dancing)
* use of video projections – realistic, shadows, abstract – very simple, and very very effective
* live music from a drummer (like all but one of the performers, a woman)
* a very good traditional dance by a male performer (a very perceptive quote from about 10 years ago by the Malaysian-Chinese choreographer and dancer Pit Fong Loh: “The thing about traditional Korean dance is that it looks almost like a contemporary piece.”)
* at the end wonderfully evocative (alas recorded, not live, but I understand the economics!) Korean music for a Korean flute and a Korean zither.

Links to other reviews: these range from one lukewarmish to several quite/very favourable, but none as enthusiastic as I am about this production. I can understand why the lukewarmish review is like that, although I think it’s wrong, I hope to show why it’s wrong when I make some more detailed comments here.

Edinburgh Fringe listing

review in The Stage
A Romance, C _ The Stage Edinburgh 2013 – must see

Traditional storytelling, domestic drama and romantic dreaming are poetically inter-woven in Modl Theatre of Korea’s beautifully costumed and colourfully staged tale of love and family in 19th century Korea.

Inspired by the tale, all six women of the household share their stories and yearnings about love, expressing subtle feelings and raw emotions alike through movement and song, dance and poetry in most attractive fashion, to accompaniment of traditional ‘Jang go’ drum, mini-pipe and bell.

The dream sequence with male dancer in flowing blue and white whirling with a large fan is a very appealing finale.

Modl Theatre brings memorably forceful yet always sensitive acting to this poetic revelation of the world of Korean women barely a century ago.

review in edinburghspotlight

Modl Theatre have created a gentle and original take on storytelling here. Dressed in traditional costume, the almost entirely female company spark off each other in scenes of playful poignancy, trying to hide their sadness at the impending departure of their Mistress. A screen behind them is not only used to display English subtitles for the Korean dialogue, but also used to show video projections of delicate illustrative scenes from the story being told.

As quietly affecting and moving as a dream, A Romance has little in the way of action or dynamic direction. With its subtle and delicate blend of story and visuals, however, it doesn’t need them.

review in festmag
There’s a distinctive clicking sound ticking away as we file into the theatre. The culprits are revealed in a colourful surprise: two women bent over a low wooden block, beating out fabric with sticks.

Korean company Modl Theatre beautifully evoke an archetypal atmosphere, and when the bride begins, Scheherazade style, to spin a yarn of her own, we know it’s going to be a good one. Inspired by a popular Korean novel, A Romance weaves together myth, gesture and song, taking the tale of two fallen angel lovers towards a climax of operatic proportions. Part of what makes this piece so memorable is the chorus that comes gut-wrenching and wild from the mouths of the women as they sew, listen and join in, particularly the old widow played by Ji A Park – an archetype role, part-clown, part-earth mother.

The production is let down a little by the venue, with a subtitle screen that feels miles away from the stage and a rake that doesn’t allow much visibility of the floor – where most of the action takes place. But get there early and you’ll find yourself wrapped up in a multi-layered tale every bit as rich and silken as those hanging gowns.

About Colin Bartlett

I'm interested in arts, mathematics, science. Suliram is a partial conflation of the names of three good actors: Ira Aldridge, Anna May Wong, and another. My intention is to use a personal experience of arts to make some points, but without being too "me me me" about it. And to follow Strunk's Elements of Style. Except that I won't always "be definite": I prefer Niels Bohr's precept that you shouldn't write clearer than you think.
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3 Responses to Modl Theatre (from Korea) – A Romance (at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 and in London)

  1. Pingback: Edinburgh Festivals 2013 | Suliram – some ideas on arts

  2. Pingback: Edinburgh Fringe visit: Modl Theatre Company – A Romance | London Korean Links

  3. Pingback: Edinburgh Fringe visit: Modl Theatre Company – A Romance | London Korean Links

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