‘Chailai Goes to War’

What?: Solo performance by Khun “Kuck” (Wannasak Sirilar) with music and supporting chorus

Where?: Vic Hua Hin Theatre

When?: Every Saturday evening (until further notice) at 7:30 pm

How much?: Tickets are 400 and 600 baht, with student discount of 50%. Preschoolers go free.

Arts Guide Rating: 5 stars *****. This is great stuff.

The ‘Chailai’ story is a true incident of Thai history, interpreted here in a performance that is contemporary and traditional at the same time. The time is the wars between Ayutthaya Kingdom and the Kingdom of Burma.  With the war raging, a young Thai orphan named Dokrak is required to prove himself by infiltrating enemy lines to gather intelligence.

 To achieve this, Dokrak uses magic to transform himself into a beautiful woman, becoming the femme fatale ‘Chailai’. Chailai successfully penetrates the enemy camp, gaining vital information from an unsuspecting Burmese general. However, her superiors in the Thai army do not believe in the loyalty of this rootless, young (and now permanently transgendered) person, and ignore her information. Chailai fights valiantly with the Thai army, but loses her life as the Kingdom falls.

This staging of the Chailai story carries two messages for contemporary Thai society. One is a bit of historical precedent for Thai culture’s famously flexible approach to gender identity. The ladyboy thing does have roots. A little more subtly, the tale illustrates what can happen to a society when its members are disunited and come to distrust one another. The lesson for recent events could not be clearer.

 Khun Kuck is a remarkable performer, and ‘Chailai Goes to War’ is a must-see if solely to watch him transform himself, not only as the male Dokrak and female Chailai, but as mother, grandmother, sibling, Thai, enemy officer, etc. This is a gifted individual, and it’s a great ride.

 The supporting performers, students of Patravadi High School, are a revelation. These are ordinary Thai teenagers, most of whom have never been on a stage. As a group they acquit themselves with energy and aplomb. This is a student body to be watched. I do not doubt that there will be future stars emerging here.

 Also a star of the performance is the Patravadi Theatre’s highly innovative approach to staging. The set is quite abstract, but lends itself to the show’s needs. Visual projections support the production wonderfully.

Dialog in Chailai is entirely in Thai language. Title cards in English are projected to help the non-Thai audience follow the story. Still, if you’re not fluent in the Thai language you’ll have to accept missing a lot of detail. However, Khun Kuck is a superb mime, and you cannot miss the meaning in many scenes, nor his wonderful physical presence. Bite the bullet, and go! It’s simply astounding that we have this level of contemporary theatre happening in our little community.

‘Chailai Goes to War’ is on an indefinite run, with performances each Saturday night at 7:30 at the Vic Hua Hin. The Vic is located on Petchkasem Road at approximately Soi 114, just over the flyway going towards Pranburi and about 3 kilometers south of downtown. Look for the signs for ‘Vic Hua Hin’ and also “Patravadi High School Hua Hin’. Ticket prices range from 500 to 1,000 baht and go to benefit the school’s scholarship fund. Students attend for half-price, and younger children go free with their parents.

As an aside, victuals (and often warm-up acts) are available in the plaza outside the theatre starting around 6 pm. The main food service is absolutely delicious (and healthy) Mediterranean cuisine from Sunshine Kitchen of Bangkok. It’s a special treat, and a steal at just 250 baht per plate.

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