Published on February 13, 2008
Audience members arriving at Patravadi Theatre's Studio 1 last weekend were surprised to find themselves being led away from the seating area and into the performing space. And that wasn't the only shock. Glancing around the theatre, eyes opened in amazement at how untidy it was, with clothes hanging from the wall and scattered on the floor. As the lights dimmed, it became apparent this careful chaos cleverly concealed microphones and musical instruments, some disguising themselves as underwear or even sock hangers.
Its name means "fools' civilisation" and indeed Japanese company Wangnin Bunmei ditches any idea of normality, choosing the medium of craziness instead to wake people - in this instance, we the audience - from their "numbed humanity". Their one-hour performance, "Wangnin Family", showed how, in a society where family members often live apart and office workers turn into miserable robots, it's sometimes necessary to let go, free our minds and hearts, and revel in the power of the human imagination and our ability to "escape".
Opening the show, a man in a beige-coloured coat, carrying a plastic shopping bag, walked butoh-like across the stage. Butoh, "the dance of darkness", along with minimal lighting, worked effectively here to show how boring and sad a life this grim-faced man led, living alone in his rat hole.
The man sat down at a small table downstage centre, ready to eat his meal of plain rice alone, when suddenly six family members appeared out of nowhere and gobbled the whole bowl. He sat still for a few seconds then slipped silently underneath the table.
As soon as dinner was finished, the six got up and dispersed in different directions. Of this well-blended group of "performers", one turned out to be the director of the show, another the dancer, and the rest musicians who moved off to station themselves before their various instruments.
What followed was a carnival of sheer craziness and enjoyment as dance, theatre, live music, and circus-like acts combined to portray the hectic life of this imaginary family. Watching a wife washing her husband's clothes was never so much fun, and seeing a couple sitting down together at a table, the lady picking her teeth and the lad his nose, was never as adorable. Although the performance ended with the man returning to his lonely reality, "Wangnin Family" proved that a brief span of imaginary happiness is far better than none at all.
Later the same evening, a double-bill performance employed different viewpoints to illuminate the theme of "war".
First up was the Athens-based Kinitiras Dance Spectacle with a contemporary dance piece called "Clytemnestra Invisible" based on the character of ancient Greek tragedy who killed her husband, Agamemnon.
Dramatising the lives of women who remain silent rather than speak out against the men who use power and violence against them, the performance was a mix of movements, silence and speeches. These latter were in Greek with English surtitles, which were unfortunately constantly obstructed by set decorations and the performers themselves.
In a patriarchal society, very few women dare to declare war on abusive men, but Clytemnestra, still in her wedding dress and tied by the chain of marriage, is one of them. Rejecting the fate of helpless women stripped of their rights, Clytemnestra makes a bid for freedom, albeit by committing murder.
Second on the evening's bill and closing the weekend was physical theatre performance "The Return" by Theatre Company Nottle. Inspired by German writer Bertolt Brecht's poem "Legend of the Dead Soldier", the South Korean troupe examined the absurdity of war and the meaning of life through drama, pantomime and slow-motion actions, as well as dance.
In "The Return", a man with a routine life unexpectedly gets caught up in a maelstrom of events that leads him on a journey of no return with a military band. The fastidiously designed stage lighting offered a delightful visual plus to the company's energetic physical interpretation of this story.
Appearing with the South Korean troupe was Thailand's very own Teerawat Mulvilai. The leading man of B-Floor Theatre not only shared his physical skills, blending in smoothly with the foreign company, but also contributed the Thai translations of many lines for the local audience. However, as the majority of audience members in the less-than-half-full Theatre-in-the-Garden were expats, this reviewer was left wondering if English might not have been a better medium for this episode.
Bangkok Fringe Festival 2008 ends this Sunday. For more information, visit patravaditheatre.com.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special to The Nation