Suchat Sapsin, the man who brings the shadows into the light

The Prince and his two friends – Yordtong and Seegeaw – go to a monk’s school. In less than a week, they decide they have learned enough, and they would like to leave. The monk would not allow such a thing. The Prince pulls out a gun, threatens the old man and so they get away and head back home. Along the way, the Prince falls in love with a giant’s daughter and decides to stay with her. His friends continue the journey through the forest. They find a motorbike and even if they do not know to what purpose the object serves to they consider carrying with them. Once Yordtong is thrown down from the saddle by a restive horse, the two friends decide to continue the journey by plane. But oh! A technical problem occurs during the flight. The heroes parachute themselves and arrive home unharmed.
Nakhon Si Thamarat Suchat Sapsin Shadow Play 1
Nakhon Si Thamarat Suchat Sapsin Shadow Play 2

This is the 15 minutes story Suchat Sapsin stages daily at his house, on a quiet street on the outskirts of Nakhon si Thammarat. The show includes characters of a classical nang yai performance: a prince, a monk and the jokers, on which the artist grafted modern elements: motorbikes, guns, Thai Airways planes and an I love you highlighted every now and then. That is only to make the show appealing to a more diverse audience.

Suchat Sapsin Shadow Play

They stage the story for a minimum of two persons. By the time I got there, none had shown up, so I had to pay double the fee: 100 THB (2 euro). The old puppeteer slowly stood up from under the tree where he was resting, went up on the stage followed by his wife – who assists him every time – and started the show.

Suchat Sapsin is 74 years old and has been a nang yai maestro for half a century. He is well known throughout Thailand, being named an Honored Artist. His house is a temple dedicated to this thousand years old art – having a stage, a workshop and a small museum – truly one of the most important centers for the promotion and preservation of the shadow play tradition in Thailand.

Suchat Sapsin

“People no longer throng to see shadow play shows. They have the television nowadays” reveals Senee, Suchat Sapsin’s daughter-in-law. “We are trying, though, to preserve the tradition. Me, my husband and my daughter work here building puppets and settings for the shows and explaining to our guests the origins and beauty of this ancient art.”

There are hundreds of puppets and setting pieces in the workshop. Visitors can admire or buy them. A prince, a princess or a joker similar to the ones in the photos sell for 800 THB (approx. 17 euro). It takes one month to build a complete set of decor which sells for 25,000 THB (500 euro). I wonder if this is a fair deal.

Nakhon Si Thamarat Suchat Sapsin Shadow Play 3

“We are neither poor, nor rich. We work hard. There are many easier ways to make money. We chose this one because we feel it is our duty and honor to continue what Suchat Sapsin began. His work is precious and we must take care of it. ”

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Nakhon Si Thamarat Suchat Sapsin Shadow Play 4

An old farang and a swarthy Thai lady come into the shop holding hands. Senee calls her father-in-law “Father, we have two people”. The old man comes out from under the tree where he was dozing. He lights up a cigarette and goes up on the stage followed by his wife. Senee takes the hundred baht fee from the couple, the light is turned on and the Prince, Seegeaw and Yordtong begin their journey one more time.

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