Local pantomime troupe Babymime - an audience favourite from Pantomime in Bangkok and the Bangkok Theatre Festival - teams up with veteran stage director Nikorn Saetang for their first full-scale, solo production, "Babymime Show Vol 1".
Thailand's only professional pantomime company, Babymime comprises Ratchai "Nging" Rujiwipatna, Nuttapol "Ta" Kummata, and Thong-glur "Glur" Thongta. More than a decade ago, the first two were making theatre since their days at Phra Nakorn Commerce. After graduation, the three were attending a pantomime workshop by a local master Paitoon "Khon Na Khao" Laisakul. Later, Wannasak "Kuck" Sirilar invited them to perform at the first Bangkok Theatre Festival. This inspired them to officially form "Babymime" five years ago.
"Watching Babymime's performance is like watching cartoons," says Nging. "It's very easy to understand and fun. We still retain the routines of pantomime, but we concentrate on the fun part of it. Nowadays, we can make a living from performing pantomime and doing nothing else. We meet many new friends and see many possibilities for this art."
Their collaborator on this show, prolific actor-director-playwright Nikorn, is The Nation's 2007 theatre person of the year. He's been interested in working with Babymine since he first saw them a few years ago, especially since Nikorn's own Theatre 8X8 frequently uses physical theatre, which has a lot in common with pantomime. "Both communicate to their audience without spoken language," Nikorn says. Pantomime's movements, though, are more stylised and have a more clearly defined vocabulary, he says.
"I was really interested in working with them when I found that they could exchange with us [and share] their movement and styles, the precision in their timing, as well as their creative process and their training," Nikorn says. "Their comic timing has been one of their signatures."
Babymime pitched the idea for this full-scale production to Nikorn when they collaborated on "Gi (ant)", the double-winner at last year's Bangkok Theatre Festival. It won the Best Play Award and First Prize for Health Promotion.
Nikorn has helped bring order to Pantomime's sometimes chaotic creative process.
"Usually, they comment on one another's work during rehearsals - they're all directors and performers at the same time. This is partly because their ages and experiences are similar. This kind of work process has both pluses and minuses. Each work can take a very long time to develop as each member freely pitches their ideas," Nikorn says. "Now that I'm in the picture, I'm like the fourth director, well, let's say I'm the third and a half. They tell me, 'Without you, this scene would take a week. With you, it's done in one day.' They listen to me, instead of sharing different opinions among themselves or fighting with one another."
Nging, concurs, saying Nikorn has helped a lot.
"Working by ourselves, sometimes we overlook some details, Nging says. "Oftentimes, we're more concerned with the jokes and the messages were not clearly conveyed."
Nikorn continues, "Also, they've never had an experience in presenting a full production - they're not aware of other details like coordination with set, lighting, and costume designers, for example. That's where I come in, apart from helping them overlook the flow of the whole production from one scene to the next."
The slogan for "Babymime Show Vol. 1" is "play, play, play", reflecting the true nature of the trio. The eight-scene, 90-minute, no-intermission programme consists of revivals of old works and new works. But because Nikorn is overseeing this, the old works will be cast in a fresh light, so audiences who have seen them before won't be bored.
"They made their professional debut at 'Pantomime in Bangkok' with a piece called 'Theatre', which much fame and kudos. They wanted to revive this piece and I suggested some alteration and refinement so that it really reflects the environment of a movie house," Nikorn says.
Although they work well as a team, each member has unique strengths, and these will be showcased in their solo acts, which will have their premieres here.
"Nging looks like a nerd - polite and cute. He's interested in depicting the life of a motorcycle taxi driver. I asked him to do some homework, carefully observing real life people and then selecting parts of these - which is how my company, Theatre 8X8, works," Nikorn says.
"Ta's movements are very lucid. He's the most vibrant of the three, a little aggressive perhaps. For his solo, 'The Old Man and the Dog', he wants to do a non-comical piece, showing how these two loners are waiting endlessly, and what if one of them dies. With his high level of energy, his portrayal of the dog is much fun.
"Glur is the calmest of the gang, and his humour is quite dark. His rhythm is like 'less is more' - he doesn't repeat things, but nails it with one strong movement. He's experimenting by re-interpreting a pop song in a work that resembles a music video, one part of which is a little abstract."
A highlight is "James Bond 007", their newest work, and most technically complicated one. Nging says that the troupe is inspired by the non-conventional pantomime performance of Japanese duo Gamajobat, which shared the stage with them at Pantomime in Bangkok.
"They want to play with simple and fun props like guns and a helicopter. My task here is somewhat like a dramaturge, devising the plot structure for them."
Another must-see is "Friendship". "In this heartfelt story, they show that good pantomime doesn't have to be funny - it can be emotionally engaging as well."
The whole show is called "Vol 1" and that clearly means there's more to come from Babymime. But, if we don't show up for their first, there may not be a second.
One of the best scene stealers in Thai theatre, Theatre 8X8's Dia, will open each segment and link them with her singing, acting and dancing. But she won't steal the spotlight from Babymime.
Inspired by real-life cinema-going experience, this hilarious scene by Ta and Glur shows various annoyances you'll encounter, like mobile phones, popcorn munching and smelly bare feet.
In each day of work, the man behind Bangkok's fastest and most dangerous transportation meets people from many walks of life. With his satirical bites, Nging will portray lots of them, all by himself.
Premiered a few months ago in "The Art of Corruption" show held by the Ministry of Culture's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, this work, co-created by Babymime and Nikorn, asks whether we're a part of corruption around us.
We all have our unique experience at the dentist's office. " Nging and Glur relive some of those funny and sometimes painful incidents.
The Old Man and the Dog
Filled with much warmth, Ta's story of a special friendship will make you smile.
The popular love ballad from the homo-erotic drama film "Bangkok Love Story", is presented by charming pantomime movements here by Glur.
Filled with much sensitivity, this is a unique story of friendship, time, and death.
James Bond 007
In his secret mission, the world's most famous spy, and a female counterpart, is after a microchip that can devastate the whole planet.
Babymime Show Vol 1 will be performed at 2pm and 7.30pm tomorrow and Sunday and on March 8 and 9 at the Pridi Banomyong Institute on Soi Thonglor (BTS: Thonglor). Tickets are Bt300 and Bt500, available at Thaiticketmajor. Proceeds will be donated to the Chaiwana Foundation. For more details, call (080)223 1412, or click to www.vrbabymime.com.
The writer can be contacted at Pawit.M @ chula.ac.th