National Theatre re-opens with INTERNATIONAL PUPPET FESTIVAL
Marionettes have taken control of the National Theatre for the International Puppet Festival.
In this so-called "creative economy" era, when a good public-relations campaign can make any performing-arts event look much better than what it actually is, many activities that don't have an effective publicity machine fall by the wayside and lose out on the audience numbers they deserve.
Such is the case with the International Puppet Festival, organised by the Ministry of Culture, running from December 3 to 7 at the National Theatre's newly renovated main hall.
The festival caught the public attention last week when it was announced that the Chakrabhand Posayakrit Puppet Theatre would perform two episodes from "Taleng Phai", two decades in the making, on Thursday and Friday. However, when the troupe arrived with all the puppets and puppeteers at the not-yet-quite-ready theatre on Wednesday, the festival was so lacking in organisation that the stage could not be set up as planned and the previously agreed rehearsal time had to be substantially cut. The National Artist's troupe had no choice but to cancel its much-anticipated public performance.
As a result, the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre was asked to perform, at short notice, additional work. As the festival's opening act, it fittingly and proudly represented the country with an episode from "Mahajanaka", adapted from His Majesty the King's widely read novel, which dramatically presenting the theme of perseverance. Those who watched the full production last year at the Thailand Cultural Centre probably wished the same could have been restaged here rather than just one episode.
Poor organisation was forgotten on Thursday (December 3) night, as the festival continued with the 10 international participating troupes appearing on stage for a short time and treating the almost full house—many of whom were bused-in students—to a wide variety of puppet traditions filled with immense artistry and creativity.
Returning to the Kingdom after stunning audiences at the Asia-Europe Puppet Festival held at the Thailand Cultural Centre back in 2002, China's Fujian Jinjiang Hand Puppet Troupe, now officially registered as an intangible heritage of the country, remains one of the most amazing theatre groups I've ever seen. Its performance is a solid example of how a millennia-old tradition can always be fully enjoyable. The experience is akin to watching a Peking Opera blended with a CGI-enhanced kung-fu movie—a fine balance between drama and action.
Similarly traditional and equally wonderful is
An example of how Western techniques are adapted to fit an Asian context and filled with an Asian spirit is in the performance by the Korea Puppet Art Institute. A grandmother puppet, before stepping into a rectangular box for good, hands a few written messages to a few audience members who read them into the provided microphone before hanging them on a tree, so that these wishes—for example, for the unification of the Thai people despite political differences—will soon come true.
Masterpieces from the West include Russia's 78-year old company Obraztsov Theatre, whose lifelike "Tango" is both hilarious and sensual.
Spain's Libelula prove that most physical jokes are universal.
Germany's Annette Wurbs: Theater Handgemenge who shows how much one woman puppeteer can do.
Even though the publicity machine fails to make it clear, this international puppet festival is one of the highlights of the bigger cultural festival marking HM the King's 82nd birthday. This also features the decorations along Rajdamnern Avenue, outdoor performances in the evenings at Phra Karn Fortress and Sangkheet Sala and hourly screening of 3D movies at the National Theatre's small hall.No reservation necessary and admission to all programs is free. For the puppet festival, arrive at least an hour early and pick up your free tickets at the National Theatre (Main Hall)’s foyer. For puppet performance, ask, or beg, for seats in the first 10 rows on the orchestra level as the live video images on the side screens do not do any justice to the small puppets. Language is not a problem as most puppet performances are targeted at young audiences and dialogues, mostly in English, are very limited, and adults will not be bored.
The writer wishes to thank the Culture Ministry's Yuthika Isarangkura for all assistance.
written by Pawit Mahasarinand
published in THE NATION on Monday, December 7, 2009
all photos courtesy of Ministry of Culture
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