FROM 2014 to 2016, when many countries around the world were marking, respectively, the 450th and 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth and death, the number of Shakespearean productions hit a record high. Thai theatre artists didn’t add much to that record, though, as the May 2014 coup provided a more exciting source of inspiration. Auspicious years aside, we haven’t had much fun with our translation and adaptation of the Bard’s works here in contemporary Thai theatre – Naked Masks’ “Hamlet”, B-Floor’s “King Lear” and New Theatre Society’s “Othello” are the very few exceptions.
Another is Ing Kanjanavanit’s “Shakespeare Must Die”, the 2011 politically charged, and much more fun, film adaptation of “Macbeth”, although it doesn’t really count having been screened worldwide but not in her home country.
And so any new production of Shakespeare’s is quite exciting. I missed the first run of Dreambox’s “Twelfth Night”, or in Thai, “Ratri thi sipsong” with a very colloquial subtitle “Ao Thi Sabaichai”, a direct translation of “What You Will”, during the three weekends it was staged in August. The praise for the script and performances by fellow theatre critics made sure I wouldn’t miss its restage earlier this month at M Theatre.
Given the rave reviews, the number of audience members on a Sunday afternoon was much lower than I expected. Are we still afraid of Shakespeare? And is that partly because the first Thai dramatist who translated Shakespeare’s plays was King Rama VI and we studied some of his translations in Thai literature class? Or is it just that in this semi-colonial state we don’t need to care about the world’s most produced playwright?
That said, Dreambox’s resident playwright Daraka Wongsiri’s new translation, which masterfully sacrificed some literary prowess for better communication with the contemporary audience, reminded us that in his time Shakespeare wrote for the general public, not just theatregoers, and so we should never be intimidated.
The cast was made up of television actors, all of them with a significant amount of stage experience and even though the proscenium theatre wasn’t as intimate as the thrust Shakespeare wrote for, they knew very well how to connect with us. The three stars of the show were Deejai “Phat Thai” Deedeedee who proved a real comedian as the Fool; Nisachon Siewthaisong who was convincing as Viola and also when she impersonated Cesario; and Darun Thitakawin as Lady Olivia on whom my eyes stayed anytime she appeared on stage. Sadly though, Tamakorn Jakravoravudh’s Malvolio, especially in his rendezvous with Lady Olivia wasn’t quite as convincing.
Credit here must also go to director Suwandee Jakravoravudh who made sure that her thespians were not only comfortable with their lines but also had fun in mastering their roles. And when they did, so did the audience. It’s noteworthy that she picked up a Culture Ministry’s Silpathorn Award a few days before the premiere of this play and her work here proved that this national recognition was indeed long overdue. That said, I would still question her, and Daraka’s, decision to set the production in this predictable style although Ritirong Jiwakanon’s practical set and ravishing costumes helped transport us to Elizabethan England.
While this “Likay Farang” look may be what the Thai audience almost always expects in a Shakespearean production, it’s perhaps time to have more fun, especially now that the script connects well with us and we can almost believe that, like the title of Jan Kott’s seminal book, Shakespeare is “our contemporary.”
The running time of more than three hours showed that, like many other contemporary Shakespearean productions, some lines or scenes needed to be cut and the pacing, like in any comedy, should have been picked up. And if it’s going to take so much time changing scenes – notwithstanding Kaiwan Kulavadhanothai’s delightful transition music – the use of a neutral set might work better, especially as the Bard already wrote clearly in his script where the characters are and will be next.
In the meantime, let’s hope that this translated script is published so Thai readers as well as acting and directing students can finally have real fun with Shakespeare.
Veteran director Dangkamon Na Pombejra’s new production of King Rama VI translation of “Merchant of Venice”, with professional and student actors, will be at Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts from February 7 to 17.
It’s in Thai, with English surtitles.
Tickets are Bt 600 (Bt 300 for students) at (081) 559 7252. Find out more at Facebook.com/DramaArtsChula.