Mediums, Puppets and the Human Actor in the Theatres of the East

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This book brings together a powerful universal myth – that of the Birdwoman, which has been the inspiration of several Asian theatres and the subject of many Asian plays – and the connection between string-puppet and human actor movements within the Asian theatrical tradition. It is a book about theatre as ritual and as power-struggle, and presents for the first time a study of Lady Jôruri, herself a semi-mythical figure, who gave her name to the world’s most sophisticated puppet theatre. With illustrations.


“This is a remarkable piece of original research, the result of a seven year exploration and covers an enormous field.” – British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild

“Dr. Poh Sim Plowright’s achievements . . . are multiple. Led by her enthusiasm we are offered a pan-Asian view of the interaction between puppets and the theatrical world in general, between puppet and the human actor, and the intriguing symbolic and spiritual world in which the puppet operates. Dr. Plowright’s exploration is firmly rooted in specific examples, giving rich and analytically informed details of major parts of the repertoire of the puppet ‘theatre’ of Asia (all in the context of the total theatrical world), showing the relationship between its manifestation in various Asian cultures, and constantly stimulating the reader by the richness and complexity of the performance world she describes. . . . her powerful (and extremely readable) study certainly brings an important new perspective to our understanding of ‘the Theatres of the East.’” – Martin Banham

“I was hugely impressed by the range and depth of this book. It covers an enormous breadth, both historically and geographically. Not only does it explain the religious and theatrical systems operating in China, Japan, Indonesia, India and other major cultures, but it also has an extremely useful final chapter on puppets in Western Europe since the middle ages. It is truly unusual to come across a book of scholarship that manages to reach across such a wide area without slipping into superficialities or inaccuracies. . . . The remarkable thing about this book is that it is able to move with such ease and grace between accounts of performances witnessed by Dr. Plowright in China, say, or Japan, and the historical, religious and philosophical systems essential to understanding those performances.. . . . Her account of the way the puppet underlies so much Eastern performance as the ultimate paradigm and reference point strikes me as profoundly original. I am quite sure that this book will prove a milestone in the development of Western scholarship concerned with the theatres of the East.” – David Bradby

Table of Contents

Table of contents (main headings):
Foreword; Introduction
1. The Art of Manora – An Ancient Tale of Feminine Power Preserved in South-East Asian Theatres
2. The Birdwoman and the Puppet King – A Study of Inversion in Chinese Theatre
3. Puppet Dominance in Chinese Thought and the Art of T’ai Chi Chu’an
4. In Search of Lady Jôruri
5. The Image of the String Puppet, its Indian Origin and Relevance to Zen Buddhism, Noh Drama and Chinese Theatre
6. Western Attitudes to Puppets – Their Allies and Adversaries
Postscript; Bibliography; Index

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