The Art of Sarcasm
Thammasat's satirists hit another high note with revival of cycle of scorn
An actor performs in the Chinese opera at Sanam Luang on Monday night.
The rally at Sanam Luang last Sunday saw the revival of political satire through Thammasat University's famed Chinese Opera and lam tat, a Thai-style chant.
Both shows, which relied on poetic wit and word play, delighted the audience by mocking Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his cronies in an outrageous, yet tasteful, way.
They helped keep the mood of the protestors in check after a long day of cheering and jeering.
The last time such a show was staged was 15 years ago, during the May tragedy in 1992.
"The Thammasat Chinese opera troupe has generally showed up only in crisis. The last time was Black May, 15 years ago," said troupe leader and coach Viroj Tangvanich.
Thai politics has been going through a cycle - with each one taking 15-20 years.
Before the May tragedy, Thailand experienced the October 14, 1973 pro-democracy student movement, which triggered the downfall of the Thanom-Pramas military regime.
On Sunday, Thammasat's Chinese Opera caused a sensation when it began at 11pm.
It featured a special episode - "Thaksin of Siam versus Pao Boon Jin" - referring to the ancient judge from Kaiphong whose verdicts were celebrated for the absolute honesty and integrity in which justice and equality were upheld.
The troupe's members comprised alumni and students.
Many of the 30 members are famous businesspeople from the fields of printing, service and entertainment.
The thick make-up they wore helped save them from being recognised.
Viroj, who is also an alumnus, noted that the performance 15 years ago was about a bad gunman. This time it was about a bad capitalist.
"A person holding capital can do as much harm as one holding a gun," he said.
Viroj said the troupe was assembled swiftly. Invitations were sent out via e-mail. They had only half a day to rehearse.
The Chinese opera was called "Justice Pao struggles with the Square Face".
Thaksin was depicted as a greedy ruler who tried to buy everything in sight, including the court of Justice Pao.
The script's had to be rewritten because the first draft was made before the House dissolution. The writer, who prefers to remain anonymous, said he aimed to mock the government with a light and easy-to-understand approach.
Thammasat's Thai-style antiphon - in which two choruses alternate the chanting of a verse -won equal admiration.
Snoh Thienthong, who defected from the Thai Rak Thai Party and blasted Thaksin on Monday night, was awe-struck.
The performance marked a special gathering of members of the university's antiphon-singing club, which has been around for more than 20 years.
The lead singer, whose stage name is Dome Tha-Prachan, said they usually assemble during political turbulence, such as October 1973 uprising and Black May when they won critical acclaim.
"We have made a comeback this time by squeezing into some of the 'Muang Thai Weekly Programmes' hosted by Sondhi Limthongkul. Since then, more members have started to join," Dome said.
The five lam tat performers included a civil servant, a lawyer and a reporter. The lam tat lampooned politics.
The script was written two weeks before the show, but revised a bit after the sudden House dissolution, Dome said.
Besides the Chinese Opera and lam tat, entertainment also featured poetry readings by several bards, including national artist Naowarat Pongphaiboon and Seawrite winner Komtuan Kantanoo.