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Scoring with Shakespeare

New Theatre Society boots 'Othello' into the Thailand Premier League

After four centuries, Shakespeare's audiences have the right to wonder how the plays will be adapted to offer fresh surprises and excitement. But while theatre artists all around the world have had much fun adapting Shakespeare, their Thai counterparts have been fairly conservative. Some argue that we have not yet experienced enough of the original Shakespeare to divert from the traditional style. That's highly debatable.

In New Theatre Society's "Othello: A Match of Jealousy" - part of the "Demo Classic" series - Othello, Iago, Roderigo and Cassio are no longer Venetian soldiers, but, respectively, Otto, Go, Roj and Mike, football players for the fictional Thailand Premier League club Lumphini United.

Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca become Mona, Emmy and Nano, their girlfriends. Otto is not a Moor like Othello, but a man from rural Thailand. Mona's father, who only appears on TV, owns the club and is referred to by everyone as "Dad" - exactly as Thai footballers do. Nano is only heard off stage, and I think she's one of the studio's staff. Other minor characters have been cut from the play. So the stage is not as crowded as most university productions here - just like contemporary theatre elsewhere, this production makes full use of every actor.

Democrazy Studio has been cleverly transformed into the football club's common room, with a dining table, refrigerator, television and pool table dominating a space that is exploited to its fullest capacity by the actors. The original blank verse becomes colloquial Thai - only the soliloquies remind you that this is Shakespeare.

Following his adaptation of Dario Fo's "About Face", which closed last weekend at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, director and translator Damkerng Thitapiyasak has once again shown how one needs to understand both the source culture and the target culture in order to get the playwright's messages across in the here and now - a skill he has evidently mastered. I wish, though, that he could have included more Thai Premier League context, like the gambling and corruption for which the TPL is infamous.

Pramote Sangsorn is effortlessly compelling as Otto while Nophand Boonyai's Go shows his subtlety and proves that men's jealousy can be stronger than women's (this will come as a surprise to fans of TV soap operas). Damkerng deserves credit here as he strikes the right balance for his two leads. Some of Go's soliloquys are delivered too softly, though, and I feel that he doesn't want me to hear what he's thinking. Pavinee Samakkabutr's Mona and Tanyarat Pradittan's Emmy are much more than a pair of typically trashy Thai WAGs. And with so many stage veterans, less seasoned actors like Kamonpat Pimsarn, as Roj, and Peerapol Kijruenpiromsuk, Mike, still get their moments to shine.

Among the most memorable afternoons I've ever enjoyed with Shakespeare, this "Othello" is suspenseful from start to finish and after two hours and 45 minutes, 15-minute interval included, I felt like I had just watched a good Hollywood movie. It was proof that Shakespeare, thanks to his true-to-life characters and situations as well as deft plot and relevant messages, is timeless and universal. And one doesn't need to live in a former British colony to be convinced so. This production also allows us to forget about the Bard's iambic pentametre - no one speaks like that anyway. I'm sure that many youngsters in the audience, having watched a production that really "spoke" to them, will soon be picking up "Othello" in its original version.



GAME ON

"Othello: A Match of Jealousy" is at Democrazy Studioon Soi Saphan Khu off Rama IV Road until December 10.

It's in Thai with English surttitles. Shows are 8 nightly except Tuesday and Wednesday, plus 2pm on Saturday.

Tickets are Bt480. Call (08) 9126 7112 or visit "Democrazy Studio" on Facebook.




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