|Circle of life: Scenes from an avant-garde version of Truong Ba's Soul in a Butcher's Body, performed by artists from the Experimental Drama Troupe of the Ha Noi Youth Theatre. The popular play, written by late theatre great Luu Quang Vu has been reimagined with dancing and body language taking centre stage. - VNS Photos Truong Vi
by Le Huong
All 600 seats in Ha Noi's Youth Theatre are filled and the attentive audience is silently following the dialogue, gestures and dancing in a newly staged version of a popular drama by late noted playwright Luu Quang Vu.
The play, Hon Truong Ba, Da Hang Thit (Truong Ba's Soul in a Butcher's Body), is based on the story of Truong Ba, a gentle farmer accidentally struck off the Book of Life by careless gods. Realising their mistake, the gods reincarnated his soul into the body of a violent, alcoholic and brutal butcher.
The conflicts between the soul and the body were endless, and finally Truong Ba chose eternal death so he could return to his own body.
"I have seen this play dozens of times staged by different troupes," Pham Van Cuong tells Viet Nam News. "But this version by the Experimental Drama Troupe from the Youth Theatre brings a new dimension to the already popular script."
Much of the dialogue from the original version has been replaced with dancing, gestures and body language to express internal contradictions, emotions and feelings. Special lighting and sound effects are also used to accentuate the mood.
"Body language, dancing, lighting and sound can all be used to describe feelings in a manner that is quite different from the usual dialogue," he says.
The experimental play is one of the 13 theatrical works of various genres that will be performed at the Luu Quang Vu Festival that is expected to gather 12 art troupes from across the country in Ha Noi between September 9 and 16.
Vu's ther plays including Ong Khong Phai La Bo Toi (You Are not My Dad), Mua Ha Cuoi Cung (Last Summer) and Loi The Thu 9 (The Ninth Vow) have already become popular among theatre groups nationwide.
The festival to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of the talented playwright and his wife, noted poetess Xuan Quynh, is also one of the most important theatrical events to celebrate Viet Nam's Theatre Day on September 16th.
"I am not afraid of trying new things," says People's Artist Lan Huong, director of the experimental version of Truong Ba's Soul in a Butcher's Body. "In this new version, I focus on the dialogue between the soul and body of Truong Ba, which contains profound morals on life that fits with all eras.
"Staging the play by combining body languages and dancing is a very hard task because the actors need to be able to convey the meaning of each scene without speaking.
"I hope to bring something new to Vu's already popular play, despite the fact that I have an inexperienced cast."
Vu died at the age of 40 in a road accident together with his wife and son Luu Quynh Tho. He left behind a colossal literature treasure of hundreds of poems, pieces of prose, theatrical critiques and more than 50 plays.
Most of his plays were staged before he died at the peak of his success in the 1980s.
Many critics think that Vu wrote the poems for himself and the plays for others.
"I think his talent resulted from various factors," says Vu's younger sister, literature researcher Luu Khanh Tho. "His passion for theatre was infused in his blood from a young age after he accompanied my dad, playwright Luu Quang Thuan, to a show."
"He shifted from writing poems and prose to drama when the country adopted the doi moi (renewal) policy. He focused on the most controversial issues of the changing period. Writing plays was his way of expressing his thoughts," she says.
"Vu's plays never grow old," says People's Artist Hoang Dung, director of the Ha Noi Drama Theatre. "I see what he wrote is even more relevant today than it was a few decades ago. These days, moral degradation and lack of respect are growing problems within families."
"No playwrights have surpassed his success, with more than 50 plays written in ten years. At night, thousands of artists performed his works throughout the country, and tens of thousands queued to buy tickets for one simple reason: it's a Luu Quang Vu play," Dung says.
Vu set a record at the National Professional Drama Festival in 1985, where eight of his plays were performed by eight competing art troupes and won six gold and two silver medals.
However, writer Ngo Thao says that Viet Nam's theatre family should not wish for a second Luu Quang Vu.
"Even if Vu was alive today in this new era, a lonely talented playwright would not be able to draw audiences to the theatres," he says. "Many plays with engaging scripts and good casts only run for a few weeks before they are axed."
Thao says that people now have too many modern entertainment options at home. Northern people rarely go out at night. In order to lure them out to a play, it would require a revolutionary modernisation of theatre.
The costumes, lighting and sound of the last century seem unable to touch audiences' hearts anymore.
"Northern theatrical art seems to have fallen behind modern times and become boring," he says.
Meritorious Artist Chi Trung, deputy director of the Youth Theatre, says that they are trying their best to stage good performances and attract larger numbers to the theatre.
"The rest is out of our hands," he says. - VNS