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The heads of puppets used in Sovanna Phum Theatre’s new show.
The heads of puppets used in Sovanna Phum Theatre’s new show. Eli Meixler

Legend of a man and his dog casts a long shadow

This weekend, puppeteers Sovanna Phum Theatre are bringing to the stage an ancient tale of betrayal and loyalty

The legend of a Cambodian solder who left his wife for the battlefield and returned to find his home in ruins will be told on stage this weekend through the medium of shadow puppets.

“The story of Ton Chinn draws on Cambodian history – he was a Cambodian hero before the Longvek era,” said Mann Kosal, the 53-year-old puppet master behind the show.

Puppeteers Khim Meak and Sor Sophal rehearse.
Puppeteers Khim Meak and Sor Sophal rehearse. Eli Meixler

Set during the war-torn era following the Angkorian civilisation, the show, titled Story of a Dog, follows Ton Chinn, who comes back from war to find that his wife has burned down their house. Only Chinn’s loyal dog remained amid the charred wreckage.

During the 45-minute performance by the Sovanna Phum Theatre group, the puppets will be dressed in traditional Cambodian clothing. The action will take place to the sound of contemporary music.

The theatre group began creating the show three months ago, with Kosal designing the puppets and funding the materials to make them out of his own pocket.

“I have worked with art for many years; all those performances are my passion in life, and I really want to see Cambodians appearing on national and international stages,” he said.

Puppeteer Sor Sophal manipulates a shadow puppet.
Puppeteer Sor Sophal manipulates a shadow puppet. Eli Meixler

After their Phnom Penh performance, the group will set off for Taiwan to perform as part of the Asean Puppetry Festival on October 8.

Sor Sopheal, the 23-year-old puppeteer who plays the main character, Ton Chinn, said: “I used to watch the performance of Story of a Dog by my master, and I dreamed to perform it myself someday.”

He said the emotions of the characters would come across vividly through the puppets.

“The puppet performs at the front of the stage and gives different emotions depending on its character,” Sopheal said.

“I’m so excited to be part of this puppet story, and happy to show the story to the public on the national and international stages.”

The Story of a Dog puppet show will start on Sunday at 6:30pm at Sovanna Phum Arts Association, #166 Street 99 (on the corner of Street 484).

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