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Magic in the movements

Japanese and Thai pantomime artists have the audience laughing but a dramatic co-production meets with less success.

Publication Date : 13-07-2012

 

Japanese mimes returned to the Muang Thai Life Assurance Auditorium last weekend for the 13th edition of the annual "Pantomime in Bangkok".

While the show was delightful as ever, thanks in part to the venue, which allowed every member of the audience to see the movements, audience numbers have dropped significantly, as has the press coverage. Perhaps that's a sign that the Thai and Japanese producers should be looking for a new format next year.

Duo Sivouplait performed "Picnic" and "Clinic", demonstrating how they're a happy couple in work and life. The highest comedic peak of the evening was Honda Aiya's solo act "Conductor", in which he masterfully showed us what wasn't on the stage — the entire orchestra. He also painted, with his physical movements and facial expressions, a clear image of the female flutist the conductor fell madly in love with.

After watching Yamamoto Koyo's "I had a dream last night", I'll never think of an umbrella the same way again — he made two of them look like breasts. His "Mosquiiiiito" also related well to tropical Thailand.

Aiya teamed up with Kojimaya Mansuke as Kanikama and their "Beautiful Sunday", as in previous years, showed how the two work coherently together. Imagawa's "A Ceramist" and "Typhoon" reminded us how much a skilful mime can do alone on the stage. Japanese expat Yano portrayed "The Gambler" who bet on almost everything and yet always lost.

Thai trio Babymime revived "Mother" and the result was a fine balance between physical comedy and heartfelt stories. Created specially for Bangkok, "Underwater Magic Show" by Mansuke, Aiya and Koyo, known collectively simply as "Trio", brought down the curtain with superb magic and pantomime skills plus a unique sense of humour.

Looking back on these last two works, I wondered if would be fun and exciting for these two trios to collaborate and create a new work especially for next year's "Pantomime in Bangkok".

Apart from studying with mime master Paitoon "Kon Na Khao" Laisakul, the three members of Babymime learned a lot from watching and sharing the stage with these Japanese mimes. As a result, their style has ventured significantly far from their Thai master and is now similar to that of the Japanese counterparts — more literal and comic than abstract and tragic.

Also opening last weekend was the heartfelt drama "Ai No Kakera" (Japanese for "Fragments of Love") or "Rak Tidtor" in Thai — the first collaboration between Japanese expat troupe Kabuki-la and Thai counterpart 4daruma, both of whom have staged a few commendable original plays in the past two years.

This touching story, penned by Kabuki-la's Shogo Tanikawa, involved an HIV-positive gay Japanese expat Joe (Kabuki-la's Futoshi Hashimoto); his best friend Louis (TV actress Sarocha Watidtapan), a Thai woman; Noboru (Tanikawa), Joe's friend; and Yuki (theatre-major student Natthanan Phoosakul), a Thai karaoke bar girl.

The play clocked in at more than two hours, without an intermission and was heavy going, despite commanding performances from Sarocha and Natthanan. Hashimoto's style of acting led to his character appearing permanently intoxicated and made him, as the actor, sound like he was forgetting the lines.

When Tanikawa wrote this play a few years ago, the main character Joe was Thai, but now he's Japanese. Some of his lines are still in Thai though and Hashimoto's command of Thai is so limited that I found myself reading the English surtitles instead.

There was more language confusion in the scenes where the two Japanese friends were together, no doubt as a result of 4daruma's Napak Tricharoendej having directed early rehearsals before Tanikawa took over the reins. Although Tanikawa wrote the play, I think the production would work differently, if not better, had he let another pair of eyes come in and interpret it, allowing him to concentrate on his acting.

Suwalee Wichaiwuttikun's minimalist production design fit and made full use of the small space, but the audience wondered why some props, like bags of congee, were real while others, like mobile phones, were not.

 

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