The Moustache Brothers, Comedians

L1140191 (Large)In Myanmar jokes can get you into serious trouble, as the internationally celebrated Moustache Brothers found out the hard way. In 1996 they performed at an Independence Day celebration at Aung San Suu Kyi´s Yangon compound, telling politically tinged jokes about Myanmar generals. For two of the three “brothers” (Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw), the result was arrest and 7 years hard labour. In 1997 several Hollywood comedians wrote to the government in protest. Meanwhile, the third brother, Lu Maw, kept the Mandalay show going with the help of his wife.

Proud to be cover girl for Lonely Planet!

Proud to be cover girl for Lonely Planet!

After their release in 2002 the reunited Moustache Brothers remained blacklisted from playing at outside events (marriages, funerals and so on). However, they played a series of gala performances at home attended – inevitably – by government agents. The regional commander soon said to Par Par Lay not to perform at home anymore.

When he got home, some tourists had already gathered for that night’s show, and he and his family imaginatively decided to perform without costumes and makeup. Thus the show went on for the tourists (and the KGB people – Lu Maw´s nickname for Myanmar´s military intelligence). They explained they were merely “demonstrating” a performance, since they could not do a “real” one without costumes. Somehow it worked.

L1140125 (Large)“They have ordered us to stop 6 times”, says Lu Maw. “But it goes in one ear and out the other. That´s our job!”

The performance has become exclusively for tourists. Locals who attend would probably be followed by the police, but foreigners experience no problems. Following the September 2007 demonstrations, Par Par Lay suffered another month in jail, but the shows have never stopped. They are still performed in a single room with just a dozen plastic chairs a yard away from the performers. Par Par Lay died in August 2013 of cancer; Lu Maw and Lu Zaw are continuing with the shows.

L1140154 (Large)L1140167 (Large)After the show they talked to me about their lives under the military regime in Burma: "We do not have fear, but every joke could bring us in prison again."

After the show they talked to me about their lives under the military regime in Burma: „We do not have fear, but every joke could bring us in prison again.“


U Pan Ayé, Puppeteer

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAU Pan Ayé is happy. Again the show was almost sold out. Since his country released new reforms tourists are coming steadily. And this is good for the 83-years-old Master puppeteer. Since 1990 U Pan Ayé is performing in the small theatre in Mandalay, a town in Northern Myanmar (Burma). “I was a young boy, 13 years old, when I first watched a performance with marionettes in my village”, he remembers. He got fascinated by the old art and decided to become a puppeteer. “With 16 I got lessons by the most famous puppeteer of the country”, he admits, still very proud. Years passed and U Pan Ayé is today the oldest existing Master puppeteer of Burma.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAYoug-the pwe is the name of the popular Myanmar marionette theatre. It presents colourful puppets in a spectacle that many aesthetes consider the most expressive of all the Myanmar arts. As with dance-drama, the genre’s “golden age” began with the Mandalay kingdoms of the late 18th century and ran through to the advent of cinema in the 1930s.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe people of Burma have great respect for an expert puppeteer. Some marionettes may be manipulated by a dozen or more strings. The marionette master’s standard repertoire requires a troupe of 28 puppets including kings, a queen, prince and princess, a regent, an old man and woman, clowns, good and bad evils, and so on. The show is accompanied by an orchestra.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe tiny stage of the Mandalay theatre holds something special. Also here colourful marionettes expressively recreate tales based on the Buddhist Jataka and Yamazat (Ramayana), with occasional bursts of visual humour. Sometimes a sub-curtain is lifted so that you can admire the skill of the puppeteers’ hand movements. “Our troupe travels and performs internationally”, says Manager Ko Thet Myo. Japan, Germany, France, Mexico, Spain, Thailand – the list of the countries is long.

His mother founded in 1989 the theatre. It is still the only place in Mandalay where puppeteers perform. He never had problems with the government. “All what we do is traditional performances, we don’t get involved in politics.” He looks to U Pan Aye: “And with him we found our Master puppeteer.”