Nophand Boonyai’s new work was marred by the choice of venue
Nophand Boonyai's new work "Co/exist" stages at Full Fat Theatre - Warehouse 30 in Soi Charoenkrung 30. Photo/Sirima Chaipreechawit
I was in Shanghai on the opening night of Full Fat Theatre’s “Co/exist” in Bangkok and trying to get some sleep when I received an angry text message from my high school friend, a banker and an avid theatregoer.
“Was it a crime to walk out?” he wrote. “I think they didn’t have any respect for the audience. The play was in English, performed [mostly] by Thai actors. It has both Thai and English surtitles but they didn’t really match so after a while the surtitles just stopped. We were in a warehouse with no sound system and so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Then it started raining and all I could hear was the rain hitting the galvanised iron roof. That’s when I started laughing.”
And so when I went to the last performance of “Co/exist” at Warehouse 30 in Soi Charoenkrung 30 last Sunday, I made sure I was well prepared. I’d had an afternoon nap, wore a light short-sleeved shirt and had a good dinner at a restaurant highly recommended by French cultural attache.
“If the play is as bad as my friend says, at least we will have enjoyed a good dinner,” I told my girlfriend, who’s a theatregoer but not as avid. I also prayed for a dry and cool evening.
I had thought to check the availability of other performance venues of similar size to that of Warehouse 30 in Soi Charoenkrung 30 and found that lack of space is no longer a major problem for contemporary Thai theatre. So what’s so special about this art-space-wannabe warehouse?
On arriving, I realised that I’d been there a few years ago to watch a contemporary dance performance by 18 Monkeys Dance Company. It looked and felt the same—a little used warehouse that needed special attention, not to mention expertise, of a director and production designer to make it fit their work and also ensure the audience had a pleasant experience. Despite their noise, two gigantic fans took care of the temperature and mosquito repellent sprays available at the box office made sure every audience member smelt exactly the same.
Director Nophand Boonyai, left, also plays in his new theatre “Co/exist”. Photo/Sirima Chaipreechawit
The opening surtitle explained “Co/exist” in a nutshell: “We still dream about the people lost in our memory, fabricated by our nostalgia and romanticised by our broken hearts, but we try to move on”. The play had three parallel storylines which, predictably, crossed one another towards the end by virtue of a car accident.
In the first, a lawyer (Nophand Boonyai) was trying to find a way to help out a celebrity TV host (Grisana Punpeng) whose under-age one-nightstand boy lover had just committed suicide. The second focused on two sisters (Pattarasuda Anuman Rajadhon and Sasithorn Panichnok), who were reliving their school and family experiences of growing up in London. In the third, a foreign movie superstar (Peter Knight) had an accident during an action scene with a Thai actress (Punika Rangchaya), who was usually been cast in a bit part as a prostitute.
The spoken language was another letdown. All except one of the actors were Thai and, with various levels of English competency and accents, could handle the English script. Moreover, only Pattarasuda and Punika could overcome the space’s bad acoustics with their well-trained voice projection and full-front body positioning. The fact that there were also English surtitles reminded me of TV newscasts when a non-native English interviewee speak English but the broadcaster provides English subtitles, as if their English wasn’t English enough. Plus, I was glancing at the Thai surtitles from time to time and found that the Thai translation was actually juicier than its English counterpart. The playwright, after all, is Thai, isn’t he?
Perhaps another clear sign that the play would have communicated better with the audience, 90 per cent of whom were Thai, had it been in Thai came when Punika delivered her monologue in Thai-accented English and every member of the audience understood her without having to rely on either Thai or English surtitles.
Nophand’s playwriting and staging signatures were all intact. The 100-minute play with poignant messages was filled with attractive characters and his actors lived them. His criticism on life and society was both sharp and cunning and I found myself laughing frequently. There was even an unexpected breakout musical moment coupled with slick choreography. Some tricks started to feel like a tired recipe though – for example, the casting of Pattarasuda as a no-nonsense sophisticated woman, and the use of less experienced actors in minor roles and as stagehands.
And if one has to prepare all whole afternoon in order to fully enjoy a play in the evening, then surely it’s better to watch Netflix, where at least we have the option of turning off the subtitles.