Hand stories by Yeung Fai

Posted on January 17, 2013 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

hand stories

Yeung Fai's Hand stories at Barbican


Can a dying traditional art form be revived? With so many traditional art forms losing their appeal to the younger generation, new ideas and collaborations have to be injected to update and preserve these crafts from disappearing.

Hand stories is a puppetry play that combines traditional skills with contemporary lighting, video and sound effects. It is a autobiography of Yeung Fai ( a fifth generation Chinese puppeteer) and his family history; there is little dialogue throughout, but there is humour, sadness and exquisite skills with a political backdrop, which means this is unlikely to be performed in China.

The highlight of the show for me is the 'behind-the-scene' section, when the audience get a glimpse of what goes on off stage, yet we can also see what goes on on stage via a video projection. Though he most touching scene of the all is when Fai lights up the candle and passes it to his French assistant Yoann Pencole, symbolising the passing of his craft to a non-Chinese, non-family apprentice in order to keep the traditions alive (which rarely happens in China). This act, I think is crucial in keeping ancient traditions alive. if every craftsman insisted on keeping their 'family secrets' to themselves or family members who might not be intersted in carrying on the family traditions, then these art forms and crafts are most likely to extinguish soon or later.

The weakest part of the show is the angel/ rock 'n' roll section, which doesn't seem to fit in with the overall tone but it's still encouraging to see new grounds being explored. The political backdrop is highly significant but not over-powering, however, the most daunting aspect is knowing that Fai is one of the very few who managed to escape to tell the tales. How about the rest who didn't? Presumably, many of the ancient arts and crafts were/ are lost forever.


AN extract of the play from Youtube


There are many countries that still value the art of puppetry and in various parts of Asia, efforts are put into preserving the heritage, crafts and skills of puppetry, but the place that has worked relentlessly to preserve ancient Chinese arts and crafts is not China but Taiwan.

If a non-Chinese person wants to learn and understand more about traditional Chinese arts and crafts, don't bother heading to China, it is Taiwan where you can find a lot of the traditions being preserved and puppetry is one of them.


puppet museum lisbonpuppet museum lisbonChangYi Fang

Main & bottom left: The Puppet museum in Lisbon. Right:  Chang Yi Fang's in Taipei


In Taipei, there is a Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum where you can visit permanent and temporary exhibitions, workshops and see performances at their theatre. There is also a Puppetry Art Centre of Taipei, an annual International puppet festival, theatre companies like Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company and shops like Chang Yi Fang, all working towards making puppetry assessible to everyone including children and foreigners.

Like Fai mentioned in one of his interviews, his most memorable or emotional show experience happened in Taipei, not only because they spoke the same language but also the enthusiasm of the audience was quite overwhelming.

I sincerely hope to see more artists and craftsmen being able to pass on their skills and let the world appreciate the wonders of their arts and crafts.


ChangYi FangChangYi Fangtheatre museum helsinki

 Left & middle: Chang Yi Fang's in Taipei. Right: Theatre museum in Helsinki


Yeung Fai Hand stories is part of the London International Mime festival and currently showing at Barbican until 19th January.


This post was posted in London, Traditional arts & crafts, Puppetry, Theatre & performance art and was tagged with London, puppetry, theatre