English interpretations will be available through headphones for the first time for non-Vietnamese speakers attending performances of cai luong (reformed theatre) at the Hanoi Theatre of Cai Luong's Chuong Vang Theatre.

Dialogue and songs in the opera Menh De Vuong (The King's Fate), now being performed at the theatre, were translated into English at an experimental performance last week. About 40 front-row seats were equipped with headphones through which audience members could listen to an English interpretation of the show.

The cai luong play tells the story of Ly Chieu Hoang (1218-78), the last empress of the Ly dynasty. Chieu Hoang was the daughter of King Ly Hue Tong and became empress after the king died without a son. After marrying Tran Canh, however, she was forced to give up her throne to her husband by the mandarin Tran Thu Do, heralding the start of the Tran dynasty (1225-1400). After 10 years of marriage, Chieu Hoang also had to give up her husband to her sister since she was unable to give him children.

"Translating the cai luong plays is not easy as old tunes and languages and classic references are used in the conversations between characters," said the theatre's director, Tran Quang Hung. "We asked specialists to edit the translation before we presented it."

Critics have voiced concern over the authenticity of an interpreted performance, saying that it would be unable to fully convey every aspect of the native art, which was never meant for non-natives audiences in the first place.

However, others hoped the interpreted performance would bring this and other traditional Vietnamese performances closer to foreign audiences.

"We received a lot of feedback from the foreign audience," said Hung. "Some told me they liked the costumes and the actors' performances but not the story, while others felt interested but thought the 105-minute play was too long. They wanted time to visit other places.

"Tourists in Hanoi want to understand the culture, but they are often only recommended to go to the water puppet theatre," Hung said.

In the near future, the theatre hopes to present interpreted versions of performances of Kim Van Kieu, based on poet Nguyen Du's epic, Luu Binh – Duong Le, an old story of friendship, and Kieu Nguyet Nga about the forbidden love between a young woman of high rank and a poor man.

Hung expected the performances would help give foreign tourists an opportunity to enjoy this traditional Vietnamese artform./.