Actress waxes lyrical about the Bard
Lan Phuong is just 28 yet has acted in more than 10 English language plays. She talks to Luong Thu Huong
about her love of the stage.
Lan Phuong is a renowned versatile Vietnamese artiste: she is a dramatic actress, a dancer and a television MC. The 28-year-old has made a good impression on audiences with many of her performances, such as Juliet in Shakespeare's famous tragedy. She has most recently participated in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).
Inner Sanctum: Why do you want to act in English-language plays?
I enjoy challenges. English plays not only help me improve my linguistic capacity but also provide me with experience for my acting career. I find them very interesting because the "plastic arts" of plays in different languages are not always the same.
Inner Sanctum: It is hard to thoroughly understand the innermost feelings of the characters in foreign plays. How do you deal with such difficulty?
As long as the actress understands what the characters want to say or what feelings are implied in their speech, she will be able to find a way to express that sentiment. It is like reading a book when you have to imagine how the characters are moving and talking in front of you and you have to make a serious effort to understand their feelings and emotions. To be honest, I find no difference in understanding Vietnamese and English characters.
Inner Sanctum: How did you identify with the character of Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest and that of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet?
These two people have different characteristics and come from completely different social backgrounds. However, there are still some similarities: both are beautiful young ladies reaching the age of marriage. Their noble families expect them to get married to gentlemen with relevant social status, even though both of them are passionately in love with unsuitable men.
Living in a society full of prejudice and watching the severe conflicts between their two families, Juliet and Romeo were able to unite together in love only after their deaths. On the other hand, Gwendolen lives in a society where snobbery is highly respected and people are forced to live lives they don't really want. But ultimately, after so many complex and humorous upheavals, Gwendolen ends up happy with her lover.
Inner Sanctum: You also played an English-speaking prostitute in the play Nguoi ngua, ngua nguoi (Horseman, Manhorse). How did you feel about that?
Horseman, Manhorse is a play depicting the reality of Viet Nam's society in a dark period when the plight of the people was greatest. The characters in the play think and react according to Vietnamese culture and customs.
The miserable lives of the characters in Horseman, Manhorse are more complicated than the mannered and enthusiastic existence of the characters in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Gwendolen was my most difficult role in terms of language. I had to learn how to speak the sophisticated and subtle vocabulary of Oscar Wilde. I enjoyed the challenge and found a way to express the mockery and humour through my speech. The scripts for Juliet and the prostitute were simpler and more modern, allowing the audience to understand easily so the burden on the actor is lighter.
Inner Sanctum: Why do you think some people say that you are a sentimental actress after watching your plays?
To be more exact, I'm kind of a sensitive actress. Whenever acting an emotional role, I "sink" into the character and truly experience their feelings of happiness or sadness.
I tend to choose unique roles to challenge myself. All characteristics—like shrewish, cruel, naive, or humane—originate from an understanding and sympathy with the role. A play cannot achieve success without an absurd character in it. The duty of the actors is to demonstrate their characters, no matter how good or bad the people are.
Inner Sanctum: Do English plays hold as strong an attraction for the audience as Vietnamese ones?
The English plays that I have participated in are aimed at audience who can speak English including foreigners, businessmen or students.
The Dragonfly Theater is a small community of expats in Viet Nam who share a love of plays and perform them for children. After our production of A Christmas Carol, we received a very positive response from the audience. They said they enjoyed the show and looked forward to our upcoming plays. The Word magazine has also published two articles about our English plays, which helps spread the information to English speakers in Ho Chi Minh City.
My friends have also told me that they enjoy the plays I have participated in very much. Before the show, they expected nothing but at the end, they are very surprised and satisfied.
Inner Sanctum: English plays have mostly been performed in the south. Is there any intention to introduce them to northern audiences?
That's what I have always wanted to do, but this aspiration cannot be fulfilled at the moment. We would need more financial support and more time, as most of our actors are currently amateurs who perform part-time.
Inner Sanctum: What are your plans for the New Year?
I'll be in a movie called Lan moi trong mua (The Lips in the Rain) by director Do Duc Thinh and another television movie - I can't reveal the name right now.
I have just been invited to act in the Dragonfly Theater's production of Le Petit Prince. I look forward to participating in other English plays as well. — VNS