Experimental tuồng plays feature Vietnamese history

November 27, 2022 - 08:43
Artists from the State-owned HCM City Tuồng Theatre will perform a new experimental play set in the Nguyễn Dynasty of the 19th century in HCM City.
FRESH TAKE - Artists from the HCM City Tuồng Theatre will perform a new experimental play on Vietnamese history called 'Vương Quyền' (The Throne) this month. Photo courtesy of the theatre.

By Thu Anh

The HCM City Tuồng Theatre will debut a new experimental play, Vương Quyền (The Throne), set in the 19th century under the Nguyễn Dynasty in Việt Nam.

The new play is written by Hữu Danh, featuring tuồng or hát bội (classical drama), a unique Vietnamese theatrical genre that developed from a folk art into a royal art in the 17th century.

It deals with patriotism, honesty, love and betrayal based on historical events in Việt Nam under the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945).

The play features Queen Mother Từ Dụ, born Phạm Thị Hằng, who helped her son, Hồng Nhậm, to become Emperor Tự Đức.

The life of Từ Dụ between 1840 and 1847 when she was a concubine of Emperor Thiệu Trị, the third emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, is highlighted. Royal family secrets and conspiracies are also included.

Emperor Thiệu Trị was the eldest son of Emperor Minh Mạng, and reigned from 1841 until his death in 1847.

Emperor Tự Đức enjoyed the longest reign of any monarch of the Nguyễn Dynasty, ruling from 1848 to 1883.

"I believe traditional theatre will attract younger audiences if it provides an interesting story, and new, modern styles," said the play’s director Xuân Quan.

“In our play, Vương Quyền, the artists will offer a new style of tuồng combined with modern concepts in structure, conversation and directing style.”

Director Quan used talented artists Linh Hiền, Đông Hồ and Kiều My as lead characters.

“I wanted every artist to feature the beauty of tuồng through his/her role on stage,” said Quan.

The first show of Vương Quyền will take place at 8pm on Sunday (November 27) at the HCM City Museum of History in 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm Street, District 1.

DEEPER MEANING: 'Tuồng' song, dance and music is highly stylised and filled with symbolism. Photo courtesy of the theatre.

Ealier, a new experimental play set in the third century BC performed by young artists from the HCM City Tuồng Theatre had attracted large audience at the 2022 National Tuồng and Traditional Theatre Festival (NTTF) in the central province of Nghệ An in May.

The play, titled Chiếc Áo Thiên Nga (The Swan Coat) and written by Lê Duy Hạnh and Hữu Danh, highlights patriotism, honesty, love and betrayal based on Vietnamese legendary stories.

The play is set in the third century BC during the reign of King An Dương Vương, founder of the Âu Lạc Kingdom, the ancient state of Việt Nam.

King An Dương Vương uses a magic crossbow to protect his kingdom from invaders. His only daughter, Princess Mỵ Châu, falls in love with Trọng Thủy, a son of Triệu Đà, the lord of a rival state that borders Âu Lạc in the north.

After their wedding, Châu tells Thủy the secret and method of using her father’s magic crossbow. Thủy then informs his father how An Dương Vương protects his kingdom. Subsequently Âu Lạc is attacked and defeated by Triệu Đà.

The runaway King An Dương Vương kills her daughter for her betrayal before killing himself.

Classical drama

Tuồng consists of singing and dancing accompanied by music. Artists wear heavy costumes and use their body, from the fingers to the elbows to all of the muscles, to move on stage.

Tuồng song, dance and music is highly stylised and filled with symbolism.

Tuồng is the spirit of Vietnamese people in the central and southern regions. I hope young artists will keep it alive,” said veteran actor Đinh Bằng Phi, who has worked for 65 years in the theatrical genre.

Phi opened the Đinh Bằng Phi Hát Bội Troupe in 1971. He was former deputy director of the state-own HCM City Tuồng Theatre.

Phi’s strong and melodic voice as well as commanding stage presence helped Phi leave an indelible mark on the art.

He has written and directed more than 40 plays and performed in many cải lương (reformed opera) and tuồng plays, videos and movies. Some of his books on tuồng are used at art schools to teach students.

He has won scores of prestigious awards for best actor and best director at national theatre festivals and contests. He has also trained students at art schools and theatres.

He performed at the 2022 NTTF organised by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The event featured more than 250 artists from theatres and troupes in Hà Nội, HCM City and the provinces of Đà Nẵng, Quảng Nam, Huế, Khánh Hoà, Bình Định, Thanh Hoá, and Hà Tĩnh. — VNS