À Ố Làng Phố means “village and city”. The show aimed to capture Vietnam with “all the beauty and authenticity that the creators experienced….and portrays [it]…in the most truthful way possible.” (Tuan Le Directors note)
The audience was treated to a visual and musical spectacle in a romantic rendering of Vietnam. Ambitious in its aspirations, the show included superb acrobatics and the use of bamboo poles and baskets that evoked rural and urban Vietnam. Playing to mainstream audience expectations of Vietnam, the country scenes included floating markets and boats, turtles and ducks. Physical humour and mime peppered the scenes as well as flirtatious boy-girl romances.
The show seemed aimed for the largely non-Vietnamese audience with the common popular images of Vietnam being evoked of peasants working the land. This fits in with the remit of the AsiaTOPA festival bringing “Asia” to Australia.
The urban scenes captured the noise and high-density living of Vietnam, which reminded me of the time I stayed in Hanoi on residency. Bamboo poles erected tight living spaces and hip hop music invaded the ears. This section represented the reality of lived experience of modern Vietnam the best in my mind.
The music was traditional Vietnamese for the rural scenes, and a blend of Western and traditional for the urban scenes. The traditional music was based on Cai Luong, a southern sung drama music style. There were few words and phrases and, when uttered, were in Vietnamese.
Overall AO Lang Pho was an enjoyable circus spectacular evoking the common romantic tropes of Vietnam. The final image one was left with is of two men, one putting his arm around the shoulder of the other, against a background of falling yellow leaves. Whether this idyllic portrait of Vietnam is truthful and authentic or not is open to interpretation. But as entertainment it has certainly succeeded in its beauty.