Thursday, November 14, 2019

Stage Review: Swell Sixteen

Jul 29. 2019
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By PAWIT MAHASARINAND
SPECIAL TO THE NATION

3,056 Viewed

The 16th edition of “Pantomime in Bangkok” gave the audience many opportunities to exercise their imagination.

Organised by Zense, Cat Radio and Get Live Management, “Pantomime in Bangkok”, Thailand’s largest annual showcase of pantomime by Japanese and Thai artists, was back in town last weekend at the M Theatre. Laughter was frequently heard, applause generally loud and smiles always on the faces of all the audience members.

The familiar strains of an accordion announced the presence of Ota Yumiko. And as those of us seated in the front section of the house turned towards the right middle door, we saw her partner Guri Guri Girl, the charming auntie character created and performed by Hatori Hisayo who later returned in-between scenes to introduce the artists and scene titles. The two walked down the centre aisle towards the stage and met with other performers who were carrying a large banner with the show’s title. And even though the number 16 might not suggest longevity — albeit perhaps sustainability — many of us were now recalling the good memories we have shared.

His costume notwithstanding, Japanese expatriate Yano Kazuki’s “Samurai Office Worker” commented on bureaucracy as his character needed to visit many rooms and climbing stairs to many floors in order to get all the necessary signatures and stamps. Some members of the audience couldn’t help wondering if this was actually based on his experience when renewing his Thai visa.

Next was “Hospital” by the duo Ayukoji, comprising Kojimaya Mansuke and Teruoka Ayumi who portrayed a patient and a nurse almost as weird as each other. The latter was actually the former’s student but her performance here proved that she could match her teacher’s every move.

The only Thai performer in the showcase was Nattapol “Ta” Kummatha, one third of the trio Babymime. His “Cameraman” was a smart take on the wedding photography craze, also involving a few members of the audience who filled this hilarious act with additional charm and freshness.

Making his Bangkok debut, Suzuki HIdeshiro showed sublime body work in both “Kiss of Fire” and “Egg”, each of which told a very different story.

After the 20-minute interval, the duo in white suits known as Sivouplait, Shibasaki Takeshi and Horie Nozomi, brought another audience member up on stage and cast him as a god of pantomime in “Do You Believe?” Interestingly, this act poked fun at this performance genre itself.

Kunii Miwako was also performing for the first time in Bangkok and her two solo works “A Cockroach Trip” and “Belly Meat” showed promise while also revealing that she needs a few more years to better hone her acts.

That was quite a contrast to “The End of Vampire” by Yamamoto Koyo who showed that characterisation work is as important as physical movement in pantomime performance.

Sivouplait was back again with “I’m Home” in which a salary man came home one evening and turned into an ape, as did his wife. It was example of how a seemingly simple story with an everyday situation at its core could convey a different message with a smart twist.

Even though it’s seen here before, Koyo’s “Memorial Photos” made for a strong closing act. This work reminded us of how time passes and in the end people we know will no longer be there. But of course these Japanese and Thai pantomime artists will return next July, and in the years to come.

At the end, I was thinking of how visually and aurally busy, if not overloaded, a Bangkokian’s life has become. Even while we’re taking Skytrain home after a long day at work, we cannot escape being bombarded by continuous advertising. Watching a pantomime show is not a meditation retreat of course, but it helps us relax, focus and exercise our imagination, certainly reminding us that sometimes silence can speak louder than words and that thanks to the art of theatre, audiences do not necessarily need to see and hear certain things to believe that they’re there.

Noticeably, the seats for the first show on Saturday afternoon were less than half filled. The almost yearly change of venue may be a reason. Even though the full lights and sound at the M Theatre, and last year’s Aksra Theatre King Power, made the show look grander, many audiences still miss the intimacy of Muang Thai Life Assurance auditorium where the early editions took place. A 20-minute intermission included, the whole show clocked in at a little more than three hours and that’s much better than some previous years when more complaints were voiced. Some wonder, though, if putting the acts into two different programmes, so that the whole show would be shorter and each artist could show more works, might be a solution. After all, we only get to watch most of these pantomime artists once a year.

- Keep track of the 17th edition of “Pantomime in Bangkok” at “PantomimeInBangkok” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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