Monday, September 26, 2016

Likay in the Fort

The Likay show in Pom Mahakan Sunday night

I went down to Pom Mahakan last night to photograph another community event in the old fort. The community organized a "Likay" show for the families in the fort and anyone who wanted to drop in. The residents set up small food stands throughout the fort and served the usual staples of Thai street food, from grilled meats to Phat Thai (fried noodles) to som tam (papaya salad) to fried bananas and more. 
Grilled meats - in this case, squid, fish and chicken, for sale in the fort. Thai community events like this are really moveable feasts. The food is delicious and inexpensive

I like going to community events in the fort. The food is great and I like watching the progression of their "living history museum." But the headline event last night, the likay show, is what really drew me to the fort. 

From Wikipedia, "Likay is a form of popular folk theatre from Thailand. Its uniqueness is found in the combination of extravagant costumes with barely equipped stages and vaguely determined storylines, so that the performances depend mainly on the actors’ skills of improvisation and the audiences’ imagination.

Likay, like mor lam, is just plain fun. Even if you don't understand what's being said and sung (and I don't), watching the interplay between crowd and performers is a good time.
The "dressing room" for the likay performers was the ground floor of a resident's home. 
A performer does his makeup. 

The performance took place in the courtyard in the middle of the fort. People spread out on mats on the ground or grabbed one of the few benches available and settled in for the show. Music accompaniment was provided by a trio performing on traditional Thai instruments.

A couple of times performers seemed to flub their lines. They covered by cracking a joke and the crowd roared in laughter. 
Putting on makeup. The lights in the background are the stage.

Ready to go on stage

I went to a Chinese opera with a Thai friend a couple of years ago, before I had been to Likay show. I had a good time at the opera but my friend did not. On the drive back to Bangkok he said he didn't like Chinese opera, that it was too slow and he didn't understand Chinese. (Chinese opera in Thailand is usually performed in the Teochow language.) He went on to say that he preferred Likay. It was faster and he could understand it.
A performer prays while getting into character

My friend was right. Chinese opera might be better to photograph (it's more ornate, the makeup is more dramatic and the staging is more elaborate) but likay is more fun. The shows are shorter (Chinese opera goes four or more hours, a likay show is an hour to 90 minutes) and snappier. I had a really good time at the likay show and plan to go to more. 
A performer at the show. 
The "stage," in this case the plaza in the fort. The only set dressing was a couch that the leads shared for most of the show. The other characters kneeled on the left and right sides of the couch. 

Likay shows are usually performed at temple fairs. They're less common in Bangkok but quite common upcountry. Like a lot of the folk entertainment in Thailand, it can be hard for foreigners to find out about the shows. They're not advertised in English language media - in fact they're hardly advertised at all. Usually there's a poster in front of the temple with a picture of performers in costume. The posters are always in Thai, sometimes the dates are in Arabic numerals, but usually they're in Thai script. (Thais use Arabic and Thai numbers pretty much interchangeably.)

If you're in Thailand and you want to see some fun Thai folk entertainment, you should seek out a likay show. It's not as ornate as Chinese opera, but neither is it as intimidating.* 
After the show performers came out and posed for photos.


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*I don't mean to imply that Chinese opera performers are intimidating. They're not. They're as approachable and friendly as likay performers. But the operas are more intimidating because they're very long and very loud and the audience much more reserved.