• Photo courtesy of A Theatre Unit
  • Photo courtesy of A Theatre Unit

Family matters

Art March 27, 2017 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation

28,329 Viewed

A five-year-old small theatre troupe stages a heartfelt domestic drama in Bangkok’s old town



Walking over a bridge across Phadungkrungkasem canal from Hua Lamphong station and into Bangkok’s old town last Wednesday evening, I was struck by the charm of the traditional Thai shophouses that once housed thriving small businesses that have now closed. As someone who frequents Siam Square area on a daily basis, I was again reminded of how Bangkok really is a city of contrasts. One of those contrasts was sharply present on Maitrichit Road where sandals and sneakers were piled high in front of a tutoring school just across from a love motel and a massage parlour. Before long though, I arrived at Cho Why, a multi-purpose converted shophouse and the venue for A Theatre Unit’s “Cheng Meng”. 

A Theatre Unit stages "Cheng Meng" at Cho Why, a multi-purposed shophouse conversed to an theatre venue. Photo courtesy of A Theatre Unit

The play is set on the eve of Qing Ming, an annual ceremony to pay respect to the spirits of the dead and centres on a Chinese-Thai family. They are without two important family members: the father, who has been missing without a trace for half a year and another, who has passed away. As they prepare for the ceremony, details of the missing father emerge as do the secrets of those left behind. 

While family members’ dark, and not so dark, secrets being revealed in a get-together is a territory all too often visited by modern playwrights, what was made this play particularly charming were the details – the proximity of Chinatown, the tutoring school, the love motel – which made it realistic. Credit for this goes to Naked Masks’ Ninart Boonpothong and A-Tis T Asanachinda who adapted the script of “From This Day On”. 

A-Tis also directed this play and he set it at such a pace that even a badly jetlagged spectator like myself didn’t yawn once last Wednesday in the preview. He also made smart use of this unique space, and the credit here must go to art director Nasree Labaideeman who added enough decor to the shophouse, on both the first and second floors (the audience was invited to walk up the stairs for the second act), to fit the play while not making it too stagey or tampering with its original charm. 

A Theatre Unit stages "Cheng Meng" at Cho Why, a multi-purposed shophouse conversed to an theatre venue. Photo courtesy of A Theatre Unit

Despite varying levels of experience, the four members of the cast worked well as a unit and were believable as a family, although all could be a little more relaxed in their performance. The standout was Natthaya Nakavech, as Madame Lee, who was subtle and yet arresting with eyes that spoke of her emotions as a woman who had been through a lot – yet still had plenty more secrets to reveal. As Pae, a long-time employee and a family friend, seasoned actor Khanchai Kleebkaraket was smooth and a little too swift, which made him look like a comic character that didn’t really fit. Young actors Jirayu Patcharasakmongkol, as Chun who finally discovered what actually happened to his lost father, and Thamrong Dejthamamathorn, as his brother and Lee’s only son, could very well match their two seniors though both could do with additional work in characterisation.

A Theatre Unit, like Splashing Theatre, comprises graduates from Thammasat University and has garnered awards and recognition during the recent Bangkok Theatre Festivals. It shines a hopeful light for a bright future of contemporary Thai theatre.

FIVE MORE PERFORMANCES

- “Cheng Meng” continues from Friday to Sunday at Cho Why, Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Road, 300 metres from MRT Hua Lamphong, exit 2. Parking is available at Hua Lamphong train station.

- It’s in Thai with English surtitles. 

- Tickets are Bt450 at the door, Bt400 for advanced booking and Bt330 for five or more tickets. Call (099) 097 4746, or e-mail A.Theatre.Unit@gmail.com. 

- For more details, visit Facebook.com/ATheatreUnit.