Southern puppet theater comes to Rayong with opening of new center

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The Rayong Cultural Council is bringing southern puppet theater to the Eastern Seaboard with establishment of the Nang Talung Shadow Play Preservation Center.

Cultural commission members joined Rayong provincial administrator Thara Pitutaecha and puppet master Somkuan Panklang to erect the poles of the theater’s main screen in Mab Song Salueng March 23.

“Nang Talung” is one of two forms of shadow-puppet theater from Thailand. Increasingly more popular than the northern “Nang Yai,” or large leather puppets, Nang Talung (leather puppets of Pattalung Province), began in the 17th century and employs translucent puppets about 60 cm. tall. The figures are manipulated by a solo puppet master and storyteller, called a “nang nai,” while a six-person orchestra accompanies the performance.

Cast and crew hold up shadow puppets during announcement for the upcoming Nang Talung Shadow Play Preservation Center.Cast and crew hold up shadow puppets during announcement for the upcoming Nang Talung Shadow Play Preservation Center.

Commission President Chaliew Ratchburi said the idea for a theater emerged after recent performances of the southern art created a buzz in Rayong. The preservation center, however, seeks to broaden the art form’s appeal by including stories and languages from not only the south, but the east, Issan and central Thailand.

Performances often depict religious tales, specifically of Buddhism, family conflict, star-crossed lovers, adventures of a wandering hero, and abandoned children seeking loved ones. Many recurring characters appear, such as the clown, the forgetful old woman, the funny elderly man, and the stupid joker. A common theme throughout these plays is karma, and the underlying message of rewards and punishment.

Somkuan will oversee the Rayong performances. A native of the province, his family hails from southern Thailand and will work to integrate traditional theater with local and modern themes, officials said.