Sunday, 22/10/2023 08:05

Young director makes debut with historical play

DYNASTIC STORY: Actors from the Trần Hữu Trang Cải Lương Theatre perform in 'Ngược Dòng Tây Sơn' (Tây Sơn Heroes), a production about the couple Trần Quang Diệu and Bùi Thị Xuân - two famous generals and national heroes under the Tây Sơn Dynasty in the late 18th century. Photo courtesy of the producer.  

By Thu Anh

Young stage director Nguyễn Thanh Toàn and artists from the Trần Hữu Trang Cải Lương Theatre are working on a new play about Vietnamese history. 

They will stage Ngược Dòng Tây Sơn (Tây Sơn Heroes), a cải lương (reformed opera) production featuring the couple Trần Quang Diệu and Bùi Thị Xuân - two national heroes who lived and served the Tây Sơn Dynasty in the late 18th century. 

The Tây Sơn Dynasty (1778-1802) was founded after three Nguyễn brothers - Nguyễn Nhạc, Nguyễn Huệ and Nguyễn Lữ - from the village of Tây Sơn rebelled against the Nguyễn Lords and Trịnh Lords. 

The Tây Sơn Dynasty ended the century-long war between the Trịnh and Nguyễn families, ended the Lê Dynasty, and united the country for the first time in 200 years. 

SOUTHERN ART: Celebrated actors Tú Sương (right) and Điền Trung have worked to preserve 'cải lương', a traditional Vietnamese theatre which began 100 years ago in the South. Photo courtesy of the producer. 

The opera Ngược Dòng Tây Sơn portrays female General Xuân’s career and her husband, General Diệu. They joined the Tây Sơn peasant uprising, and won many battles. 

Gen Xuân was born in Bình Khê (now Bình Định Province). She learned martial arts when she was a child. She was reputedly a very brave and strong woman. 

The legend says she once rescued Gen Diệu, who later became her husband, from a tiger.  

Xuân helped the Tây Sơn army train elephants for combat, and became known as one of the five principal women in the Tây Sơn Dynasty. 

The themes of patriotism and honesty are also featured. 

MILITARY HERO: Talented actress Tú Sương (left) as female general Bùi Thị Xuân in the historical play 'Ngược Dòng Tây Sơn' (Tây Sơn Heroes) staged by the HCM City-based the Trần Hữu Trang Cải Lương Theatre. Photo courtesy of the producer.

Director Toàn used cải lương stars Tú Sương as Gen Xuân and Điền Trung as Gen Diệu. 

Famous artists such as Lê Thanh Thảo and Phạm Vũ Thanh are also included.

Ngược Dòng Tây Sơn features historical events and national heroes. Our artists have worked to stage it in a realistic style,” says Toàn. 

Toàn, who is also a cải lương actor, used a new and experimental concept to perfect his first production. 

“I offer Vietnamese drama in the way that combines traditional Southern style with a musical,” says the 34-year-old. 

FRESH CONCEPTS: Young director Nguyễn Thanh Toàn uses new and experimental concepts to perfect 'Ngược Dòng Tây Sơn' (Tây Sơn Heroes), a historical play on the Tây Sơn Dynasty in late 18th century. Photo courtesy of the producer.

Toàn studied at the HCM City University of Natural Sciences.

He began his career in 2015 after winning the Chuông Vàng Vọng Cổ (Golden Bell), a national theatre contest organised by HCM City Television to encourage young people to learn about cải lương - the south’s 100-year-old and most popular theatrical form.  

He has performed for leading theatres and art troupes in the South. He has a YouTube channel featuring cải lương with more than 5,000 subscribers. 

He challenged himself as a theatre director during a long-term training course offered by the Trần Hữu Trang Cải Lương Theatre - the city’s biggest and most prestigious traditional art troupe. 

Explaining his view on choosing a historical story for his debut, Toàn said: ”Although young audiences prefer comedies, they are willing to attend a serious play. Historical plays are like valuable books or films that contain lessons that help youngsters learn more about the country’s history, traditional culture and lifestyle.” 

Toàn says he believes that a great cải lương show today must include skilled artists and have an appealing and powerful stage presence. “Cải lương is not just old but also contains the breath of modern life,” he says. 

The play Ngược Dòng Tây Sơn is scheduled to be staged on the weekend in October and November, starting on October 28, at 136Đ Trần Hưng Đạo Street, District 1. – VNS

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