A little history about modern spoken drama in Thailand

Second article of the report : Contemporian spoken drama in Thailand, an imported practice which is still in its infancy but promising .

Bangkok, Novembre 2014

Extract from The Cambridge Guide to Asian Theatre, from James R. Brandon, Martin Banham, 1997


For a number of reasons, modern spoken drama (lakon phut) remains a singularly elitist enterprise in Thailand and has yet to develop more than a tenuous hold on the Thai theatrical imagination. The earliest spoken dramas were staged by and for the Western-educated aristocracy. Prince Vajiravudh (King Rama VI) produced the first spoken drama in 1904 in a 100-seat theatre he had built upon his return from study in Europe. During in reign, 1910-25, he wrote more than 100 plays, romantic and didactic melodramas that swelled with national pride and exorted loyalty to the crown, such as King Ruang (Phra Ruang, ?1914), as well as Victorian-type farces, light romances and drawing-room comedies.”


King Rama VI was called The King of Drama. As a matter of fact, he re-wrote and transposed in a thaï context (places, characters, social context, etc...) The School of Scandal, a play from Sheridan, which then became Nin-Ta-Sa-Mo-Son. He made the same with The Merchant of Venice and other plays from Shakespeare. But despite these transpositions, the plays were still played with the european manners.


The thai traditional forms are not spoken forms. The Khon for example, is a masked dance reproducing scenes of the Ramakian (based on the Indian Ramayana). The Likhe is an event which gathers dance, folkloric music, comedy and melodrama. The Hun Lakon Lek is puppet theatre and the Nang is shadow puppetry.

Cours de danse traditionnelle à l'université Srinakharinwirot, en novembre 2014, à Bangkok

According to Kao, a stage-design teacher from the Srinakharinwirot University of Bangkok, the young students are less and less interested in it. What they try to pratice today is “western” theatre.


He precises that 10 years ago, only a few universities used to offer a theatre program, whereas today, almost all of them do have one.


Bonnie, an expat in Bangkok for 25 years who is involved in theater, cinema and TV since she arrived, explains us that at that time, “the expats used to gather to practice some activities because there was nothing western here. There were no theatre activity but the one we used to do between us.”


Bonnie is part of the BCT, the Bangkok Community Theatre, almost since she arrived. Indeed, the BCT is a amateur theatre group, which was created in 1972 for this purpose.


“The 10 first years I was there, there were no malls, no fast-food, no pizzas... expats looked for western groups to practice western activities. Even if you want to integrate to the culture, for example I put my children in a international school with children from everywhere, not a school with only American teachers and pupils, even if you want to do that, sometimes we needed something to feel a little more at home. So at that time we could sell tickets so easily.” (Bonnie, Bangkok Community Theatre)


Today, the BCT is mostly composed of expats and welcomes thai people too, and all of them are willing to practice theatre in English in a relaxed atmosphere. But the group is smaller than before, the theatres' seats are hard to fill, and sponsors are not easy to find.


« There are fewer expats now, or at least we see less of them, because they don't need our group to meet other expats like they used to. These days many expats live in “villages” (ed. note : kind of quite rich big neighborhoods located in suburbs, surrounded by walls and whose entrance gate is constantly watched over by guards for “safety reasons”) with swimming pool and gymnasium inside so they can find a social life right around their house; they don't need to go across town. And now with social media it's easier to find people who like to do the same things that you like to do (photography groups, cycling groups, etc) so there's less of a need to try something new to expand your friendship circle. Twenty five years ago, BCT had a much bigger membership with people thrilled to get involved as much to make new friends as to make theatre. Now, it is much more about the theatre enthusiasts alone.» (Bonnie, Bangkok Community Theatre)


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