Bangkok has had a number of puppet theatres and touring puppet shows over the years, but none more renown than the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre. From 2001, this Puppet Troupe put on nightly shows ar the Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Bangkok, but then came close to packing it all in after financial problems in 2004. Such was the popularity of the group that public funds were raised to support and save the show.

After many years, Joe Louis is still there.

After their resurrection the Joe Louis puppet troupe went on to win the prestigious ‘Best Traditional Performance Award’ in Prague in 2006, and even after the death of Sakorn Yang-keawsot (better known as Joe Louis) in 2007, several of his children have continued to keep the show alive, going on to win the ‘Best Performance Award’ in 2008 at the Thai national awards. Many rival puppet shows have come and gone in Bangkok, but today the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre remains the last of its kind in the Kingdom of Thailand, now finding a new home at the Asiatique the Riverfront.

The experience

These puppets are unlike anything you’re likely to have seen before, with most of the puppets around 2/3 of the size of a normal person, and some actually life-sized. The craftsmanship that has gone in to each puppet is impressive enough, with each character handcrafted to the finest detail, it’s quite stunning how life-like many of them are. You’ll soon be blown away by how much skill and effort it takes to move a single character, with around 3 puppeteers needed to control each of the multiple-jointed puppets.

Thai cultural influence.

Now, this isn’t a Thai version of the Muppets or Punch and Judy, the shows and performances are a part of true Thai heritage, having been traditionally performed to King’s and Queen’s at major national ceremonies throughout Thai history. Today this is the only puppet group in the world keeping this ancient art-form (known as Hun Lakhon Lek) alive.

Today’s show continues to tell many of the classical tales from Asian history including the epic Ramayana, the birth of Ganesha, and the story of Rahu and the Lunar Eclipse, as well as incorporating modern icons such as Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and Beyonce.

A great night out.

You’ll find the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre at the Asiatique, where you can really make an evening out of it, browsing the 1500 boutique stores and fun bistros, taking a walk along the attractive promenade, and enjoying the country’s last remaining Thai traditional puppet show.

By Kim Loe.