A New Lease of Life for Traditional Puppet Theatre

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Learning Potehi puppet manipulation from Madame Ooi See Han of the Beng Geok Hong Puppet Theatre Troupe.

Across Asia, traditional performing arts struggle to survive. But some troupes have found new relevance – and therefore new audiences.

In a lean-to wedged between a temple and a cafe, the audience sits on plastic chairs, waiting. Plucked strings and wooden clappers ring out against the falling rain. Gradually, a cast of colourful characters emerges from behind the cardboard screen: doting parents with their beautiful daughter, the lecherous man who spots the beauty at the market, a brilliant young scholar who also happens to be skilled at kung fu.

The Love Story of Warrior Ma Lek unfolds predictably, drawing much laughter from the audience. As the play continues, people drift in from both the temple and the cafe to catch a glimpse of the action. Unlike most plays at Penang’s arts festivals, this one is performed in Hokkien. Its cast consists entirely of glove puppets.


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