Trapped in Translation

"The Mousetrap" at Mary Hall, Sogang University (c) G.C.

Possibly, attending a performance in a language one is not completely aquainted with is not the best way to enjoy a whodunit-play that is built around a series of clues hidden in-between long speeches and a multifold solution supposed to surprise the casual viewer. Anyway, I followed the advertisements on the floor, leading up to Merry Hall, home of the Sogang Drama Group (서강연극회). There I watched Agatha Christie’s notorious murder mystery “The Mousetrap” (쥐덫), together with friends and family.

Theatre is more than just words, words, words, uttered on a stage to the delight of an anonymous crowd sitting in the dark. Theatre involves feelings—of responsibility, of helplessness, of pride, of shame, to name just a few that are part of the game. Given, these are personal experiences which cannot be generalized and thus seem to lack analytical value.

Nevertheless, ignoring individual circumstances does not lead to a more objective but rather to a kind of amputated perspective. Confusion—whether intended or accidental—seems to put individual dispositions to the fore. Hence the following notes on the circumstances that contributed to my own private theatre experience:

1. I wanted to understand. I had read a brief summary of the plot online, basically “eight people in a house isolated by a blizzard, one of them a murderer”. Having intentionally skipped the solution, I wanted to follow the play as it went along. I wanted to get it. In the upcoming oral exam (where the teacher asks as bunch of questions on our daily life), I wanted to say: “이해 못하는 장면이 있었지만 대체로 줄거리를 잘 따랄 수 있었어요.”

But it did not work out quite well. While I could quickly identify most of the characters, I had no clue what they were talking about. I got tired of listening, only to be left with seemingly senseless bits of conversation. Instead I focused on the ways people moved across the stage, the ways they were sitting on the sofa, and the ways they were standing around. I grew fond of them, of their peculiar ways of spending their two hours of fame.

I laughed quite a lot, sometimes in sync with the other spectators, sometimes on my own, albeit for different reasons, sometimes. Laughing can evoke a sense of community, or it can make you feel more on your own—and alone—than ever.

2. I was not alone. Next to me some class mates were eagerly listening, like me. They seemed to understand. Some of them were more fluent in Korean than me, but I did not dare to ask for words I could not recognize. I usually do not talk in the theatre. “지난 주말에 친구랑 재미 있는 연극 공연을 봤는데 줄거리를 따랄 수 없어도 즐거웠어요.”

Two rows in front of me, my little sister was taking pictures. I knew it was not allowed to take pictures during the performance. She did not seem to know and I was glad, for I would use some of her pictures for this blog. A Korean friend of mine was sitting next to my sister, sometimes whispering some clues into her ear. Later she told me that the performance had reminded her of a highschool production of “Huit Femmes” (after the eponimous movie by François Ozon, which in turn is an adaptation of a play by Robert Thomas, as I just got to know) she had seen years ago.

Besides my sister and my parents, two American friends had come with us, too. They had seen the “Mousetrap” about thirty years ago in London, where the play has been on show since half a decade—on the same stage with a new cast every year. Therefore I had expected that they would experience a weird form of “ghosting”, seeing the same characters talk in an absolutely undecipherable way. I was wrong: When I asked for a rating, one of them gave the performance “four naps” (which is not too bad, given the jetlag).

3. I knew one of the performers. To be more precise, I knew she was supposed to perform this evening, but I never spotted her. Thus, part of my attention was absorbed by trying to find out who she was. I later met her in front of the theatre and congratulated her on the performance which obviously had been great. 얼마나 잘 연기하는지 친구인 줄 몰랐어요.

I had thought about trying to join the theatre group earlier this semester but then decided that—given they accept non-mothertongues in the ensemble—I would be too busy with homework and exam preparations.

While watching the “Mousetrap”, I gave it a second thought, though. It had been a while since I last had played theatre (must be five years by now), but suddenly I got in the mood again. The next time I met my friend, I asked her to find out about the possibilities…

Theatre is more than just words, words, words. It is a bunch of people—mostly strangers—together in a room. It is some fleeting hours full of opportunities. Everything can happen, on stage and beyond, right now or just a moment to late. Much of it goes unnoticed. And although the murder case still remains a mystery to me, the rollercoaster of emotions, laughter, unfulfilled hopes, and pleasant anticipation kept me alive.

More of a trip than a trap.

— 6 August 2010 (金)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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