Mandalay is considered the centre of Myanmar's culture and there are, among others, two very different performances to see: the "Moustache Brothers" and the Mandalay Marionettes Theatre.
The Moustache Brothers are three brave men, Lu Maw, Lu Zaw and Par Par Lay, who for years have given live performances combining comedy, classic Burmese dance and satirical comments about the repressive military regime. In 1996 they told jokes about the generals at Aung San Suu Kyi's compound in Yangon; they were arrested and Lay and Zaw served almost six years of a seven year sentence in a labour camp for criticising the government. Amnesty International led a campaign for their release. Lu Maw, who escaped detention, kept a show going with his wife. Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw were released in 2002 and were "blacklisted", preventing them from performing at outside events. So they performed at home until the regional army commander summoned Lay and told him not to perform. However, their fame had spread to western tourists and the three "brothers" decided to perform without costumes just for the foreign tourists, explaining to the commander they were not really performing, only "demonstrating" a performance. Since then they were left alone on the condition they only perform in English for foreign tourists. On 25 September 2007 Par Par Lay was arrested again during crackdowns following anti-government protests, but, after 36 days in prison, was released and straight away performed again with his troupe.
Lu Maw, who is the only English speaker, does the commentary using an antique microphone, makes jokes, explains when his wife demonstrates classic Burmese dance routines and the group poses with signs displaying that they are under surveillance by the FBI, the KGB and Mossad and, when Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest, displayed her photo and made fun of the generals. As long as the audience only consisted of foreigners who would leave the country anyway, they got away with it.
Myanmar Puppetry goes back centuries and was not only for entertainment, but also a high art held in much esteem by all classes. Marionettes were a means of making people aware of current events, a medium for educating the people in literature, history and religion, and display lifestyles and customs. The Mandalay Marionettes Theatre opened in 1986 by two female founders, Ma Ma Naing and Naing Yee Mar and since then hour-long performances are given in a small theatre. Five traditional musicians sit on the floor before a small stage. They play drums and the "Hneh", a kind of oboe. The show starts with a musical prelude, including a performance on the "Saung", a traditional harp with a boat-shaped hollow base and sixteen strings. This is followed by puppeteer performances, different scenes and dances; the puppeteers are sometimes hidden from view by a curtain but on other occasions fully shown. It is a great performance of Burmese culture, music and folk art.