Untainted by colonial influences, Thai culture retains a distinctiveness which the Thais themselves are very proud of. Royal patronage insures that the traditions live on and encourages the continuing participation of all citizens.
The formal classical Thai dancing, or khon, uses elaborate costumes and jeweled gilded masks to perform scenes from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Hindu Ramayana epic. The plays are performed without spoken words or songs and can be compared to ballet in the Western theater.
In addition to the formal classical dance, each region of Thailand has its own traditional dances. A typical show put on for tourists will generally include dances from each of the major regions.
Puppets & Shadow Plays
Puppet shows, popular during the Ayuthaya period, are rarely seen today. Classical puppet shows enacted scenes from the Ramakien, as with classical dancing. Shadow-play puppets are lacy constructions made from cowhide. Shadow plays are predominant in the South, where they were imported from Indonesia.
Although it seems they're often on the brink of bankruptcy, there are currently two classical puppet (marionette) troupes in Bangkok:
- Joe Louis Puppet Theater
- Joe Louis is the oldest puppet theater group in Bangkok. It was established around 1984 and was endowed with National Artist status in 1996. The theater was located in the Suan Lum night bazaar, which has now closed, and there's no confirmed news about where they'll go. The web site linked above appears to be dead.
- Aksra Theatre
- The Aksra Theatre was set up in 2007 by a group of artists trained by the Joe Louis group. They have a permanent home in the 600-seat hall at the King Power downtown duty free mall near the Victory Monument. Note the website has very little English.
Among the most popular form of Thai theater is likay, a sort of slapstick style vaudeville. You can usually catch likay performances at temple fairs and other special events.
- Bangkok Community Theater
- Long-standing theater group of Bangkok's foreign community. Puts on two to three plays a year.
- Patravadi Theater
- The theater company was established in 1992 by Patravadi Mejudhon, an award winning actress in movies, television and stage. She is also an acclaimed director and playwright. The company also hosts the Institute for Performing Arts, which provides workshops to professionals as well as students of Chulalongkorn and Mahidol Universities.