‘Grail of Poison’ – 100-year play

“The Poison Cup” – performed at the Hanoi Opera House in 1921 – opened 100 years of Vietnamese theater.

Vu Dinh Long’s work reunites with Hanoi audiences on the 100th anniversary of the theater stage. Director Bui Nhu Lai – who restored the play – said that he has studied the work for many years. The play was released in 1921, and has only been recreated once in 1923 in Vinh (Nghe An). Bui Nhu Lai thinks that letting Poison cup “sleeping” for 100 years is part of the responsibility of professionals like him. In 20 days, the crew – including artists from many theaters – joined hands to rebuild the play, recreating the important milestone of the drama.

The return of the work caught the attention of the literary and artistic world. Critic Pham Xuan Nguyen says the value of Poison cup lies in the vanguard. Before that, Vietnam had no spoken drama, only singing plays (tung, cheo, cai luong). April 1920, book The patient thinks by Moliere translated by Nguyen Van Vinh was performed in Hanoi, creating a buzz. Mr. Vu Dinh Long at that time wondered about the Vietnamese people wearing French clothes and performing French plays for the Vietnamese to see.

Artist Trinh Mai Nguyen (right) plays teacher Thong Thu. Photo: Vietnam Drama Theater

According to documents collected by critic Pham Xuan Nguyen, in September 1921, the script Poison cup was born, printed in two issues of the magazine Huu Thanh. Within a month, the theater department successfully put on the play. The magazine described the show at that time as lively, making the audience excited and surprised. Mr. Nguyen Dinh Kao – who plays the role of Master Thong Thu – was praised for his natural acting. After the performance, the theater team also performed some more shows in Hai Phong and Nam Dinh. A French translator – Mr. G. Cordier – translated Poison cup into French, published in the yearbook of Tri Tri Association (a scholarly association in Vietnam at that time).

Mr. Pham Xuan Nguyen commented: “At the age of 25, Vu Dinh Long had a profound insight into contemporary social life. He strongly condemned the negative side of the hobby of witches, witches, fortune-tellers, and addictions. Drinking and drinking, and at the same time discussing the responsibility of each individual for family happiness.The irony, attacks, and dramatic situations are all unique. After 100 years, those messages are still valid. , with Poison cup Mr. Vu Dinh Long made a great contribution to building the foundation of oral drama, the one who lifted the velvet curtain of the theater stage.

The character of Master Thong Thu is the soul of the play.  Photo: Vietnam Drama Theater

The character of Master Thong Thu is the “soul” of the play. Photo: Vietnam Drama Theater

Performances Poison cup opened a new trend of enjoyment of the audience at that time, they preferred to watch plays related to the country more than Western plays. After that, the movement to release foreign works flourished. Mr. Vu Dinh Long Vietnameseized the book L’Aventurière by Émile Augier into Congregation female Ngoc Dung (1947), Horace by Pierre Corneille in Fatherland above all, Le legataire universel by Jean-François Regnard to Heritage. He considered Vietnameseization as trying to keep many of the beauties of the original script, turning their work into a close Vietnamese play. Pure Vietnamese scripts were also born.

Restoring the classic play, Bui Nhu Lai said that he brought into the modern spirit by promoting contradictions and climaxes. The tragedy of the family of Master Thong Thu – a middle-class intellectual in the Westernization period, falling into poverty and debt due to many bad habits, is depicted more clearly. Writer Hoang Thanh Du commented that director Bui Nhu Lai had created more acting ground, making characters from 100 years ago come to life. Each artist owns the stage even though the script includes many old, long, and elusive lines.

In the role of Master Thong Thu, artist Trinh Mai Nguyen portrays many emotions of a fallen intellectual. At the beginning of the play, the character appears with a drawl, drunken appearance, and spends money like garbage. When faced with a debt situation, Master Thong Thu was enlightened and saddened. The character keeps the spirit of a soldier, intends to drink poison to commit suicide. The role of artist Le Khanh’s mother, teacher Thong Thu, has more acting space than the original play. The character appears from beginning to end in a state of half-awake and fanaticism. The younger sister played by Viet Hoa creates sympathy in the lonely scene when she is in love and is not cared for by her family. The play creates laughter through some characters such as the lisp guy – the lover of the teacher’s sister Thu, the first two brokers.

The scene of teacher Thong Thu angry because his mother and wife fell into superstitious games.  Photo: Vietnam Drama Theater

The scene of teacher Thong Thu angry because his mother and wife fell into superstitious games. Photo: Vietnam Drama Theater

The director said that the difficulty of the crew was that there was no document or image other than the original script. Surname Create your own costumes and stage. In addition, instead of strongly lashing out at listening to her, like the original script, Bui Nhu Lai condemned some individuals for distorting these cultural features.

He said: “I think such an adaptation is in line with the spirit of the times, when ca tru and mother-worshiping beliefs were recognized as intangible cultural beauty that should be preserved.” In addition, he combines traditional Vietnamese music with Western symphonies in some segments, demonstrating the cultural interference in the play’s context.

According to writer Truong Quy, it is a pity that the human character – Mr. Quyt – did not appear. In the original script, Vu Dinh Long once noted: “This role-playing character must move very well, not only to make it fun and funny, but also to have a posture that makes the words of other roles stand out. “. In addition, the director spends land for the singing of chau van and a lot of bronze.

The play 'The Cup of Poison'

Trailer of the play “The Grail of Poison”. Video: Festival Vietnamese theater artist

Critic Pham Xuan Nguyen was disappointed because the ending of the work was changed. According to the original play, when Master Thong Thu was about to drink poison to commit suicide, he suddenly received a telegram from his brother who had been missing for a long time. Thanks to that, the whole family got out of debt, woke up, and rebuilt their lives. Mr. Nguyen said: “This is a fairy-tale ending, reflecting the spirit of the Vietnamese people towards good things. However, in the reconstruction, the miracle did not happen, only Mr. Xuan – you Master Thu – come to explain morality”.

Ha Thu


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