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STAGE REVIEW

There are two ways of laughing

Get your guffaws at 'Tuen Tuek IV' or 'Chao Rok' this weekend or see both at risk of split sides

Going just by the sustained laughter and applause across two and a half hours last Sunday at its nearly sold-out matinee, "Tuen Tuek IV" is by far the year's funniest comedy show far.

Of course, there might be some in the audience who disagree with the premise: that the government only made last year's flooding worse. The loss in humour is theirs. The artists involved demonstrate what democracy is for in venting their political opinions publicly.

In "Tuen Tuek IV", subtitled "Klua Nam (Kid Pai Eng)" ("Flood Phobia (Paranoia)"), former university friends now in their early 50s reunite to help the one who's struggling most with the deluge. Even now, her home is still behind a wall of sandbags and she travels anywhere with a boat with disaster-relief supplies.

But this friend, a professor, needs help too, so her old chums hire a spiritual therapist who dresses a lot like Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Through a translator, the healer delves into the patient's mind. In the end, many of the friends are cured as well - of various forms of "paranoia" that are common among middle-aged and older people, such as fretting about their appearance and being successful at work.

The show is another commendable success for playwright Daraka Wongsiri and her lifelong collaborator, director Suwandee Jakravoravudh, as well as the veteran actors onstage. As in the three previous editions of "Tuen Tuek", Daraka's realistic characters are well-educated middle-class Bangkokians exchanging dialogue filled with social and political satire. The jokes are always in good taste. (You'll learn about a new species of snake that's worse than the green mamba.)

Suwandee keeps the energy onstage high amid the tight ensemble working at a rapid pace, as is always the case with good comedy.

For viewers like me who've seen every "Tuen Tuek" since the first outing two decades ago, this is like a reunion of our own. I even share a receding hairline with some of the characters.

I'm already looking forward to the next one. Meanwhile the scripts of all four episodes are now on sale, and I remain glad that "Tuen Tuek" hasn't been adapted for television or a movie, because it's clearly made for theatre.

Over at the little studio-theatre Democrazy near the Lumpini subway station you can see the second offering in the Demo Classic series, New Theatre Society's "Chao Rok".

It's a "tradaptation", meaning translator-director Parnrut Kritchanchai has made sure Moliere's play "The Imaginary Invalid" doesn't seem particularly French. The dialogue sounds like it might have come from a century-old Siamese play, other than a little modern slang here and there.

Parnrut says she was taking an "all for laughs" approach, so the show is full of physical and verbal gags - many evidently contrived in rehearsal as actors sought to pad out their meagre parts. Some characters, as a result, lose their spine, particularly in the first half, and the plot and message lose their focus.

Fortunately they get back on track toward the end and we finally learn a few lessons, with all due credit to the French playwright and the Thai translator.

GOOD TO GIGGLE

Both these shows are in Thai with no English translation. Tickets are selling fast, so best get yours quickly and in advance.

"Tuen Tuek IV" continues at M Theatre on New Petchaburi Road tonight at 7.30, tomorrow at 2 and 7.30 and Sunday at 2. Tickets cost Bt1,210 at www.BananaBooking.com.

Learn more on the "Dreambox Theatre Bkk" Facebook page.

"Chao Rok" is at Democrazy Theatre Studio on Soi Saphan Khu, Rama IV Road until Monday, daily at 7.30 with a 2.30 matinee on Saturday. Tickets cost Bt450 (Bt400 for students) via (086) 787 7155.

There's a "New Theatre Society" page on Facebook.


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