By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
XP’s predictions for Thailand’s stage activities last year turned out to be spot-on. We said that the commercial theatre companies would put on fewer musicals and we were right. From their independent counterparts we expected more international collaboration thanks to support from foreign cultural institutions and again our words were prophetic. Think, for example, of “A (Micro) History of World Economics, Danced”, “Happy Hunting Ground” and “Ocean’s Blue Heart”, all soundly backed by the French embassy, Goethe Institut and Japan Foundation respectively.
Now we are predicting that these two trends will continue in 2017. With the official mourning period for the late King Rama IX going on through October and the grand funeral ceremony taking place that same month, it seems unlikely that commercial producers will want to risk investing millions only for their live stage shows to be postponed or cancelled again. And that also explains why new musicals have not yet been announced.
That said, the first two major musicals, whose runs towards the end of last year were cut short following the monarch’s death, are slated to be back on stage soon. WorkPoint Entertainment’s “Nithan Hinghoi The Chaliang Musical” will restart January 28 at K-Bank Siam Pic-Ganesha Centre of Performing Arts while Scenario’s “Lot Lai Mangkon The Musical”, with Chinese surtitles, kicks off the following weekend at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre.
MR Kukrit Pramoj’s “Lai Chiwit” will be at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts in a few weeks. Photo/Ritirong Jiwakanon
Another highly anticipated work postponed from mid-October – not a musical, though it does have a cast of 38 –is the first stage adaptation of late prime minister and national artist MR Kukrit Pramoj’s “Lai Chiwit” at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts. It’s coming to the stage thanks to the IATC Thailand award winning director and playwright duo Bhanbhassa Dhubthien and Parida Manomaiphibul. In unconfirmed news, we hear that they’re also planning to adapt this into a musical, although with considerably fewer cast members, in 2018. Prior to that, veteran director Dangkamon Na-Pombejra will stage “Venice Wanit”, King Rama VI’s translation of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” this October.
It’s noteworthy that during the 30-day period from mid-October to mid-November when the government was curbing what they determined “entertainment”, the Bangkok Theatre Festival 2016 was cancelled but not the tourist shows, which continued with business as usual. And with the recent opening of a new shopping, dining and entertainment complex Show DC, close to RCA, two tourist shows will soon be added to tourists’ itinerary – namely “Himmapan Avatar” and “Ong Bak Live”. The creative team of Dreambox is behind the former, while film director Prachya Pinkaew joins forces with concert producer Vinij Lertratanachai and Scenario’s Takonkiet Viravan for the latter. These will add to the long list of shows like “Calypso Bangkok”, “Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives”, “Siam Niramit”, “Nanta” and “Khon Chalermkrung”, and cement our status as one of the world’s tourist destinations, while at the same time, giving the wrong impression that these reflect contemporary Thai theatre.
Let’s also not forget that a major festival, which started in November, is still going on every weekend until early March. Vic Hua Hin’s inaugural Theatre Season continues this month with Documentary Club’s screening of award-winning films plus Wannasak “Kuck” Sirilar and Sun Dance Theatre’s “The Snakes”. The programme next month has a concert by Kuricorder and Friends, Patravadi School Hua Hin’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Rajanikara “Leng” Kaewdee’s “Immigreyzone”.
2017's first play "The Chanchila" is now on stage at Syrup The Space in Liberty Plaza, Soi Thonglor. Photo/Monkey Army Theatre
Most of the smaller theatre groups have yet to announce their plans for 2017. However, Monkey Army Theatre’s “The Chanchila” has been up and running since Friday at a new venue Syrup The Space, in Liberty Plaza, Soi Thonglor.
Just down the road, Thong Lor Art Space, last year’s most prolific venue, is working on its largest production to date, a stage adaptation of popular novel “Plai Thien”. Preparations are also underway for the Space’s multi-disciplinary arts programmes in its Low Fat Art Fest”, originally scheduled for last November and now spread over a few months this year.
At the Democrazy Theatre Studio, while Thanapol Virulhakul’s “Hipster the King” and “Happy Hunting Ground” – the latter with the support from Goethe Institut – are both on the international tour circuit, “Tuek Khunying Ri” – Jaturachai Srichanwanpen’s adaptation of Craig Wright’s “The Pavilion”– comes to the stage in early February.
After failing to stage his “Dancing with Death” here in Bangkok last year, Silpathorn artist Pichet Klunchun is now building a new theatre that’s fit for it, and so we’ll finally get to watch this work, which has already been staged in Japan and Singapore and will soon be seen in Australia.
Playwright and director Oriza Hirata brings an adaptation of “Tokyo Notes” to Bangkok in November. Photo/ T Aok
As for foreign collaborations, there’s little doubt that Japan Foundation will be leading the pack this year. Last Saturday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), internationally acclaimed playwright and director Oriza Hirata stopped by to reveal one of the most exciting pieces of news for Thai theatre in 2017. He’s staging, with an all-Thai cast and a mix of Thai and Japanese production crew, “Bangkok Notes”, the Thai adaptation of acclaimed work “Tokyo Notes” which is slated to kick off the Bangkok Theatre Festival 2017 this November. A co-production of Hirata’s Seinendan and Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Dramatic Arts, this production is made possible with the support from Japan Foundation’s Asia Centre whose Wa Project is supporting collaboration and exchange between Japan and Southeast Asia. Open auditions for “Bangkok Notes” will be in early March and rehearsals start in mid-September.
Theatre fans and artists might well recall that the last time a major Japanese theatre director worked with a Thai cast and crew in a production of this scale was almost two decades ago when Hideki Noda staged his “Akaoni”. That “Red Demon” not only started many collaborations and exchanges between the two countries in the following years but also led to the formation of Bangkok Theatre Network (BTN) and Bangkok Theatre Festival (BTF).
Let’s see what will come out after “Bangkok Notes”.
Two months ago, another world-renowned Japanese playwright and director Toshiki Okada joined SEA Write winning writer Uthis Haemamool for a talk on his novel “The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed”. The work, which was translated into Thai by Japanese literature professor Matana Jatura- sangpairoj, is based on his most famous play “Five Days in March” seen here at Patravadi Theatre years ago.
Toshiki Okada’s “Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich” will be at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts in March. Photo/Christian Kleiner
His new play with the strange title “Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich” will be at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts in early March after stopping at many festivals in Europe. And that’s not all. Okada is also planning to adapt a soon-to-be-published novel by Uthis into a play, with the translation assistance by Matana, and that’s of course another Wa Project.
Meanwhile, B-Floor Theatre’s Dujdao Vadhanapakorn will start her new collaboration with French choreographer and performer Julie Nioche in March – and their research topic is Thai massage. With strong support from the French embassy, we may get to watch their performance some time this year.
Khon Na Khao’s Khon Rak Mime Festival, with support from Goethe Institut and Japan Foundation, will be back for its second edition in the middle of the year, after which the fourth floor studio of BACC will host many performances and festivals as part of its 6th Performative Art Festival. And of course, in September and October, we can expect to watch classical ballets, operas and contemporary dances from many corners of the globe in Bangkok’s 19th International Festival of Dance and Music at Thailand Cultural Centre.
In November, the “Unfolding Kafka” festival, organised by 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre will return to a few venues and among the artists rumoured to perform is Japanese dancer, choreographer, sound, image and lighting designer Hiroaki Umeda.
Best wishes for the New Year and see you at a theatre near you.