Thursday, September 21

At That Time, Byeon – Greenside @ Nicholson Square

Ever watched a radio play created on stage? Seeing actors and crew create the sounds of the story is fascinating. Add the techniques of Korean silent films and you can start to imagine the entrancing ability of this black comedy from acclaimed Theatre Haddangse.

Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea and apparently based on a real murder, ‘At That Time, Byeon’ presents the case of a maid’s death, closed without the murderer established. There are occasional moments of Korean, always clear in general meaning as well as great to hear – being the performers’ own language – but the production is mostly in English.

A troupe of 6 entertainers, decked out in black and white with carefully chosen touches of red, play against a white paper screen, put too fine use, including for projected scene titles. Use of household objects, including food, is ingenious, creating most of the sounds of the show and a lot of its lighting and sometimes becoming characters in this depiction of secret shenanigans, heartfelt ambition, a climactic cop car chase and, just possibly, political interference.

Aspects still seen in Republic of Korea’s now-globally recognised dramas, such as animal sounds to help express characters’ feelings and actions, and visual / aural euphemisms for sexual matters, are created here with great panache, wonderful humour, dexterity and pathos. The cast is impressive, their physical performances and delightful delivery entertaining throughout.

Unfortunately, the story is not quite as strong as the presentation and the show’s ending felt rushed and somewhat muddy. Notions of what might have happened could have been performed fully for the audience to judge, rather than only one version shown that way, while other possibilities were simply implied or given via hearsay. The rushed feeling is especially surprising given that the show finished about fifteen minutes earlier than advertised. There would have been time to have the troupe’s speaker address the audience again – as he so excellently, and amusingly, did in the beginning – and to have the audience genuinely consider / offer their answers regarding ‘who dunnit’. Perhaps this can still be introduced.

That said, Theatre Haddangse’s quality of performance, ingenuity of presentation and delight in sharing their story makes ‘At That Time, Byeon’ fascinating to watch and very easy to enjoy.

Reviewer: Danielle Farrow

Reviewed: 10th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.