Eclipse At Patravadi Theatre
On Saturday, my friend Chatchie took me to the wonderful Patravadi Theatre in the centre of Bangkok. Just getting there was a journey in itself: crossing the majestic Chao Phraya River by ferry while the pilot dodged the oncoming river traffic; and a stroll through the mazy tumult, smell and colour of a market in one of Bangkok's oldest neighbourhoods. And then suddenly another world altogether: a quiet, narrow lane; a low wall decorated with murals of dancers; the distant sound of a pianist playing jazz standards; and the shady embrace of an urban garden. Welcome to the Patravadi Theatre, one of Bangkok's hidden jewels. It's a modest complex of workshops, studios, galleries, a cafe, a shop and a magnificent open-air playhouse.
In Thailand, the name Patravadi is synonymous with the performing arts. Named for its founder - the incomparable stage performer, scriptwriter and theatre director, Patravadi Mejudhon - the theatre has been perhaps the most important centre for both classical and innovative, contemporary performing arts for more than a dozen years. It is the hybrid of traditional and modernist styles that is Patravadi's hallmark.
We were there to watch Eclipse, a unique piece of music-dance theatre. The story explores the deep meaning of Buddhist teachings on the causes of suffering by showing people's reactions to an eclipse of the sun. In traditional Thai thought the prevailing view was that during an eclipse an evil spirit was eating the sun. So as soon as an eclipse appeared everyone would rush out into the open to beat dreams, bang on pots, shoot off guns and make as much noise as possible to drive away the evil spirit. In this production, the players use the sound of drums to signify the awakening of courage and strength, as a symbol of the fight against fear, ignorance and prejudice. The story is about the path to enlightenment - a Buddhist version of the struggle to overcome suffering by understanding its causes. By transposing its themes, or reading them through secular lenses, the play was remarkably powerful even for a non-believer like me. If you're ever in this part of the world you should pay your respects to the creative work being done at the Patravadi Theatre.