Living and acting through controversial veil
Solo performance by veteran thespian is not just about her Muslim headscarf
Walking into GalileOasis Theatre, an intimate, simple and practical performance hall converted from a shophouse, last Saturday afternoon for Farida Jiraphan’s restage of her 2021 solo work “Hijab”, the audience was met with her friendly and sincere greeting, "Any seat would do: they're all [expletive] bad."
We later found out that it's actually the opposite, although some seats would feel more breeze of air-conditioning than the others. Throughout this 75-minute performance that’s frequently hilarious and occasionally heartfelt, Farida made sure each of the 60-odd members of the audience on three sides of the performance area, or thrust stage configuration, could clearly hear, see and feel her. This was notwithstanding the fact that her face and body were mostly covered due to her religious belief.
Interestingly, at the beginning when she realized that her black sanitary mask was still on, over her black hijab, most audience members didn't even notice it and when she took it off we couldn’t see much difference in our performer who’s entirely in black attire.
In this fine blend of comedy and drama, Farida started by briefly and clearly explaining what hijab really is and the audience soon understood that this piece of cloth—required in some countries yet banned in others—when put elsewhere will be called something else as it performs a different function.
Later on, she told us why she became a Muslim and how she was bitten by a theatre bug while watching Theatre 28’s stage adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, her favourite book when she was a teenager, at Saeng Arun Arts Centre. Then, short excerpts of her performance in Crescent Moon Theatre’s “The Revolutionist” at Pridi Banomyong Institute and Democrazy Studio’s “Hipster the King” and others followed. For those of us old enough to have watched the actual productions of these, witnessing her transform into different characters, with extra pieces of cloth and props, in these short scenes was not only a special treat but, as they’re from seminal stage works, a personal overview of contemporary Thai theatre.
When she noted that Saeng Arun Arts Centre, Pridi Banomyong Institute and Democrazy Theatre Studio and now she’s performing at GalileOasis, it’s not merely a joke. Given the fact that these were all hubs of contemporary Thai theatre, it’s also a commentary on the lack of support from our culture ministry which simply let them pull the plug. As many arts lovers are wondering when the new National Gallery will be officially opened as its soft launch was almost a year ago, others are questioning what exactly has happened to the plan, since 2017, to build a new performing arts centre behind it.
Notably, Farida didn't elaborate on why she decided to put on the hijab, after more than 40 years of not doing so. While this might be a slight letdown, what's more important, though, is that after having watched her perform these scenes with hijab we realized her acting prowess was in fact exactly the same as without it.
She mentioned that a few of her television and film acting jobs had been cancelled when the producer realized that this well-rounded performer now needs to cover parts of her face all the time. This speaks volumes about our entertainment industry and how its maturity is lagging behind that of other "democratic" countries, especially now that we’re seriously addressing the issues of inclusivity and multi-cultural society.
It’s noteworthy here that there’s one truly special moment lasting a few minutes in the performance the details of which I would not spoil here. It’s a silent moment that was perhaps a reason why “Hijab” was at that place and time and needed to be experienced in-person, and never online.
“Hijab” continues on Saturday (with English surtitles) and Sunday, 3pm at GalileOasis in Soi Kingphet (10-minute walk from BTS Ratchathewi station; limited paid parking nearby). Tickets are Bt 450 (advanced transfer) and Bt 500 (at the door), bookable now at 086 899 5669.
Next month and September, this new arts hub in the city centre—with a cafe, an art gallery, two restaurants, a dessert shop and others—will host three productions of stage comedies in its“Comedy Tree Festival.” Right now, its vibe is making many theatregoers reminisce about Democrazy Theatre Studio and Thong Lor Art Space of the last decade. Stay tuned for more details here.
By Pawit Mahasarinand
Photo: Nattarika Charoensuk