Festival The stage takes over from the screen as varied productions hog the limelight including an Indian musical, slated for the event in October. Lekha J Shankar

After three film festivals in one month, including the inaugural World Comedy Film Festival (where the Indian film ‘Singh is Kinng’ won a Special Mention Award), it was the turn of Thailand’s multi-varied theatre forms to hog the limelight.

Among these were a new production by Thailand’s theatre – doyen, Patravadi Mejudhon, a new opera by the country’s opera-genius S. P. Somtow, and a spectacular musical at the city’s much-talked about Muangthai Rachadalai theatre. Patravadi, like the Indian dancer Chandralekha, is noted for using traditional art-forms as the stepping-board to create a new and exciting idiom in Thai theatre.

New drama

Her new drama ‘Phra Lor’, combines traditional Thai music and dance with hip hop, pop, rap and other Asian forms such as Butoh and Noh, to create a drama that is riveting.

The Patravadi Theatre-space, on the side of the Chaophya River, is a dream location. Indian artistes Astaad Deboo and Anita Ratnam have also performed at the festival.

Like Patravadi Mejudhon, Somtow Sucharitkul is an icon of Thai culture. Once based in the U.S., and known more for his literary than musical prowess, he re-located to Bangkok and founded the Bangkok Opera in 2000, which laid the first seeds for the opera-culture. He has already produced three grand operas, but says that his new opera ‘Thais’ by Jules Massenet, performed recently, is the most demanding. Firstly, it’s in French, not an easy language to ‘sing’ in, secondly, it’s not standard opera repertory (and thirdly, it needs a superb soprano singer to play the lead.

Somtow chose the well-known Nancy Yeun of Hong Kong, who superbly expounded the complex role of the Egyptian courtesan who gets converted to Christianity in ‘Thais,’ admirably supported by American baritone Stefan Paul Sanchez and Spanish tenor Javier Agullo. The drama has been directed by London-based Darren Royston. Apart from the international cast, it was impressive to see the youthful Siam Philharmonic Orchestra (with 17 year-olds and a leader who is only 24 ), trained and ‘conducted’ by Somtow himself, who play with ease and enthusiasm.

An India-lover, Somtow did an outstanding opera called ‘Ayodhya’ in 2006, based on the ‘Ramayana.’ He says that he will be working on the opera-version of a ‘Jataka’ tale, ‘The Silent Prince,’ commissioned by the Indo-American Association in Houston.

The new and most talked about theatre space in Bangkok is the Muangthai Rachadalai theatre, which opened in 2007 and since then, has staged some spectacular local and foreign musicals. The Thai musicals have been resurrected by the seasoned Scenario theatre group and the foreign ones (such as ‘Cats’ and ‘Cinderella’) have been brought to the country by the well-known multi-media entertainment company, BEC Tero.

Scenario’s latest musical drama, ‘Mae Nak Prakonong,’ based on one of the famous Thai ghost-tales, is a superb amalgam of music, dance and high technical effects (at one point, the ‘ghost’ flies over the audience).

Most interesting is its total evocation of Thai folk and art-forms, beliefs and superstitions for a production that can match a Broadway or a West End show, and for which dynamic director Takonkiet Viravan deserves applause.

BEC Tero’s ‘Bangkok Calling’ package is meant to promote a plethora of top class international shows heading for Bangkok. Among these are ‘Nanta’ – a musical show of kitchen-instruments from Korea (July 22-26 ), the lavish, new West End production of ‘Mama Mia’ (August 11-23), the prized ATP Thailand Tennis Open that will feature top tennis players such as Rafael Nadal, (September 27-October 4) and finally, a spectacular Indian musical called, ‘The Merchants of Bollywood’ (October 22-28).

According to Neil Thompson, Deputy Managing Director of BEC Tero, this is the first time they are bringing a big ‘Indian’ show, which is why they have planned a series of fringe Indian activities from food to fashion during the one-week of the ‘…Bollywood’ shows in October.

According to him, the ticket rates in Bangkok (1000 - 4000 Bahts) are cheaper than elsewhere in the world ,which is why they have decided to launch the special ‘two-night packages’ this year for foreign tourists.