We recently enjoyed a staff adventure to the British Museum to see their Southeast Asian Shadow puppetry exhibition. Curator Dr Alexandra Green gave a fascinating tour of their puppet collection from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
The intricate patterning and curvilinear designs of the Javanese shadow puppets were my favourite, displayed re-enacting the great battle scene from the Indian epic the Mahabharata. With 102 puppets, I thought our production of A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings was impressive, yet these performances had hundreds and hundreds of puppets!
Our touring manager, Hattie Callery, would find touring with these shadow puppets a dream as they would they fit flat-packed into a transit van easily – they are organised systematically according to a social hierarchy…
This outing was a lovely opportunity to talk about our shared passion for puppetry, and reflect on this in a new context and against different cultures. Puppetry in South Asian has evolved greatly over time and in some areas it is still part of local ideas of identity and part of religious practices. Performances are often put on at life-changing and ritualistic events, and can last up to 8 hours. The collection included a selection of more modern puppets, demonstrating their usage in recent culture and incorporation into TV, film and the internet.
By Laura Harwood, Development and Administration Assistant.