Blending the Korean performance styles of pansori – traditionally consisting of a singer and drummer – and changgeuk – an operatic evolution performed in the pansori style – with classic Greek tragedy, Trojan Women, from the National Changgeuk Company of Korea, represents the very best that the Edinburgh International Festival has to offer.

Despite Euripedes’ original work being close to 2500 years old, written 16 years into the Peloponnesian War, there’s an undeniable universality to the tale as it touches on the hidden horrors of war that are so easily forgotten. Writer Bae Sam-sik and director Ong Keng Sen capitalise on this excellently to make the performance feel both modern and classic. Despite the classical trappings, when performed in a Korean art form with cultural nuances it’s hard not to see the spectres of the Second World War in the wings.

Set in the wake of the fall of Troy, the performance follows its women as they reel from the deaths around them and their allotted fates at the hands of the Greeks. Chiefly, we see Queen Hecuba mourn her husband, sons and country while her daughter, Cassandra, relishes in the prophesied death of King Agamemnon and her daughter-in-law, Andromache, desperately tries to protect her son. And, of course, there’s Helen of Troy, desperate to regain King Menelaus’ favour and escape the vengeful Trojans who want her blood.

We see these women wracked with grief, furious at their betrayal, and ultimately defiant in their fury at the enslavement that awaits them. However, there are also those who display naught but apathy at the situation that has befallen them – those who accept that they have merely exchanged one master for another.

While only brief, it’s in these moments that there are touches of class consciousness as the Chorus voice their frustration that so much was given to protect Hecuba and her family while the rest of Troy burned. Inevitably though, this dissipates as they turn this hatred first towards Helen, and then the Greek soldiers.

The Chorus themselves are a tour-de-force. While only eight strong, their collective voice easily reaches the Festival Theatre’s rafters. Alongside Kim Kum-mi as Hecuba, they carry the production with power and grace. Kim herself is mesmerising in her role as she faces the horrors that have been wrought upon Troy and tries to find a solution for those around her. Initially, she exudes pain and sorrow with every line, transforming it into strength and resistance, but regardless of emotion the audience are thoroughly enraptured.

The rest of the cast deliver incredible performances, too. Yi So-yeon deftly replaces Cassandra’s virginal qualities with calm vengeance, smirking knowingly as she expresses her joy at the fate that awaits both herself and Agamemnon. Choi Ho-sung also wonderfully balances Menelaus’ pride over his victory with the vulnerability of a man still very much in love with Helen.

These performances are all deeply enriched by the accompanying music. Music director Jung Jae-il, renown for his work on Parasite and Squid Game, and legendary pansori composer Ahn Sook-sun have curated truly spectacular pieces of music which blend traditional instruments like Buk drum, haegeum, and ajaeng with pianos and synthesisers to infuse songs with elements of k-pop, blues, and jazz. As is the case with pansori theatre, and its descendant changgeuk, the music marvellously  punctuates every line and movement, enhancing the experience ten-fold.

The rest of production elements remain smartly subtle, never detracting from the performance at large. Simple colour choices in the costuming distinguish the two sides (white for the Trojans, grey for the Greeks) with small accoutrements like Menelaus’ bloody hands adding further nuance. Likewise, projections of rolling waves, fire, and swirling cosmos against Cho Myung-hee’s starkly white set nicely compartmentalise each individual character’s section, making them feel like concert spectaculars.

Come the end, the audience take to their feet with praise for the 110 minutes of epic theatre that have just unfolded, and with good reason. This is a phenomenal production and worthy modern addition to the pantheon of pansori classics.