Red Demon, or Akaoni in Japanese, is a well-known play among Japanese theatre-goers. Written by one of the most famous (at least domestically) Japanese playwright, Noda Hideki, this play has been considered as a unique trial of intercultural negotiations. It was first staged in Japan with Japanese casts along with a British actor as Red Demon in 1996, and re-staged with Thai casts with Noda Hideki himself as the Demon in 1997. Since then, Red Demon has been re-staged by Noda.
I had a chance to watch Noda version of Red Demon with Thai casts in Tokyo in 2004. The set, costume and lighting were minimal —— filled with white. As the result, the impression of the stage was very “flat” and “odorless”, without any clue of specific cultures. So, when I heard that Pradit Prasartthong, one of the original casts of Noda’s Red Demon, was planning to create a Likay —— traditional popular theatre form of Thailand —— version, I was particularly interested in how he would adopt the “white” play into the colorful and culturally-specific Likay settings. My guess was that Prasartthong would need to change the text a lot to stress the allegorical side of the story.
I was wrong. Prasartthong found a fine balance between traditional Likay style and Noda’s highly contemporary playwriting. The text of Noda was not drastically changed, and the minor changes added a real Likay nuances.
I had an opportunity to join the post-show supper thanks to Festival’s General Manager Low Kee Hong, and talk with Prasartthong (By the way, we usually call him by his nickname, Tua). Tua shared his views on Likay and told me how he created this piece…
——Is it rather usual to perform Likay in the proper theatre setting nowadays?
Tua: Yes, sometimes we put Likay in big theatres. It’s not a new phenomenon, and people have accepted it. And in some special occasions, such as a show for the King, or charity events, many Likey performers gather and perform at the large venues like the National Theatre. Actually, Likay can be performed everywhere. But, mostly we perform outdoor, in the communities.
——This time, you worked with young musicians.
Tua: Many of them are trained in Western music and have never performed for Likay. The songs sung in the performance are traditional songs, but re-composed by them with some contemporary twists. Normally we don’t play like this in Likay.
But some of them are from traditional schools and trained in a very strict traditional way. So, they had troubles to adjust themselves to the new style. I persuaded them to try something new to them, which they cannot try in the school.
As the result, they invented a new style. When we staged this piece in Thailand, audiences were surprised because this is something new even for them. It’s already an avant-garde.
Yeah, I know. I ought to have boycotted this show because it’s by an Israeli theatre company.* But for the sake of professionalism (and because the thought didn’t occur to me till I was actually on the 3rd floor roof of VivoCity, about to watch the show), we’ll let that pass.
(I’ve lost all the photos I took of the setting, though. Have also lost the camera I took them with. Yeah, karma’s a bitch.)
Surprisingly, this wasn’t an all-Israel team: only two Israeli women actors were visible (and one very cute, Eurasian-looking tech guy). The other five actors were young Singaporeans: they all danced into the arena in black and white faux-1950s hausfrau outfits, singing tunefully about how they were all such good backstabbing neighbours, inviting us into their homes in English, Hebrew and Mandarin.
Their homes, by the way, were these charming little wendy-houses with removable tops with holes you stick your head and/or hands into. The view inside (complete with actor) is something like the graphic above.
But only 2-5 people could see each wendy-house show at once. And you didn’t line up for the show: you got chosen.
Only kids got chosen first, so I assumed it was all namby-pamby drink-tea-with-Alice-in-Wonderland stuff. Then I exerted my influence as an Official Blogger and got ushered into a booth which turned out to be the Chapel of Eternal Celebrity – stained glass of angels and demons inside! Pinups of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe! Hosts: Madonna with a pointy bra, and a hapless audience member corraled into being Michael Jackson. Also a wonderful moving trap door leading to a pit of dismembered dolls and photos of Macaulay Culkin and Ris Low, called CELEBRITY HELLLLLLLLL (fiendish cackle, come on, Michael, do the fiendish cackle with me).
My partner and I ended up auditioning to be eternal celebrities, ending off with a singalong of “Like a Prayer” and “Black Or White”. I felt rather gratified that I could do these songs better than her, until I discovered it was ‘cos she was much, much younger than me and those numbers were ancient history to her.
Couldn’t get into any of the other shows because of high demand. Meh. So I’ll give it to you, Israel: you guys do good street theatre, and you’re willing to share your skills. Now, just stop being evil to the Palestinians, and the world will be a happier place.
* I’m not being a hypocrite here: I’d actually be quite touched if someone boycotted a travelling Singapore show because our country executes the largest number of people per capita in the world. We’re evil too, dudes.
Bryan’s already said his piece, but I have my own 7 cents to add:
1. Oh dear… Could someone please explain to the volunteer MCs how to pronounce French group names? (She did okay with “Trois”, though, which is no small feat.)
2. Giant marionette dom/sub relationships! Safe for the kids, yet disturbingly titillating.
(Why yes, that wooden marionette on the left really did come to life. It’s because of the magic of the imagination! And barbiturates.)
3. Y’know, despite the cool concept, their miming of invisible strings isn’t really very convincing. (Sure, it’s being done behind solid wooden face masks on stilts, but still.)
4. As a friend noted, Arts Fest seem to be going for more audience interaction this year. (Also see my later review for “The Hood”.)
5. I kept on hoping he’d fall into the river! Fall into the river! And then he actually frickin’ FELL…
6. Now that the show’s over, can we can all gawk at the fact that these guys stayed inside these giant costumes for 30 minutes in the afternoon sun, pretending to be made of wood?
I asked one of them if they’d ever worked in the tropics before. They hadn’t. Hope y’all gave them tips. Oh yes, and that is the official Singapore Arts Festival drink in their hands. I guess Newater got outbid.
7. A question: Why doesn’t Singapore have traveling acrobats like this? You can blame the education system and materialistic culture, but I think it’s got a lot to do with how small we are.
Groups like Compagnie Carabosse and Compagnie Une de Plus can travel all over France and Europe doing their tricks without people getting sick of them. Singaporeans can’t do that… unless ASEAN abolishes border controls like the EU. (Sure, our currency would go haywire, but think of the cultural benefits!!!)