Unlike many large cities in the west Bangkok doesn’t have much of a performing arts scene, not in the traditional sense at least. While to the east of the country, Vietnam, Cambodia, and even Laos have been left with several active theatres and opera houses, partly due to a period of French colonial rule, the options for viewing traditional stage and musical performances in Bangkok, and Thailand as a whole, can be sometimes limited. However, Bangkok is not totally void of theatrical options.
Within Bangkok you will find a mix of conventional and alternative performing arts venues and stage shows, from the traditional ‘Khon’ (masked dance) and ‘Likay’ (Thai folk dance), to travelling Broadway/West End productions and philharmonic orchestras, not to mention the somewhat infamous ladyboy cabaret shows.
Here’s the pick of Bangkok theatre experiences:
Modern Dance at the Patravadi Theatre.
Created by one of Thailand’s best loved actresses, Patravadi Mejudhon, the Patravadi Theatre is a rather cool, modern, open-air theatre and rehearsal space, set on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace. This is the place to come for some of the best modern dance performances in the country, from enthusiastic student reviews to dedicated professional avant-garde dance shows. You should also watch out for some notable live music events and performances.
In addition to the performance space this riverside complex also contains a gift shop and restaurant, all surrounded by contemporary sculptures and modern art installations. It also boasts some great riverside views of the Old Town, and is best reached via riverboat taxi.
Siam Opera at the Thailand Cultural Centre.
Yes, Bangkok does have an opera company. You may not have heard much about them but Siam Opera have been performing Western style opera since 2001, starting out as Bangkok Opera. Having completed 5 seasons covering the complete Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Siam Opera can currently be found performing regularly at the Thailand Cultural Centre, supported by the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra.
Many of the operas performed have been adapted to fuse ancient Thai stories with a traditional Western style of opera, including adaptations of classics such as Turdandot and La Boehme.
The Siam Niramit Cultural Show.
The best word to describe the Siam Nramit Cultural Show is EPIC. This state-of-the-art theatre has the world’s largest stage, purposely built to host a spectacular 80-minute nightly stage show which includes 150 professionally trained actors, dancers, and stunt people, not to mention a number of large animals. The show depicts legendary scenes from Thai history and fable, including lots of traditional dance, acrobatics, and impressive staged fighting, with plenty of special effects, sound and lighting, to create a memorable experience for the audience.
There is also an option to include a dining experience with the show, while within the theatre complex you’ll find a replica traditional Thai village where you can see further performances and demonstrations of ancient Thai crafts.
Thai Puppet Shows at the Joe Lewis Theatre.
Forget Punch and Judy or the Muppets, we are talking highbrow performance (well at least mid to high borw) rather than simple children’s entertainment. The Joe Lewis Puppet troupe originally started out in the 80’s at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar, with humorous and culturally interesting performances using traditional hun lakorn lek puppets, performed by the late Joe Lewis (Sakorn Yang-keawsot), and his children.
While other traditional puppet troupes have come and gone, today the Joe Lewis Theatre has found a new lease of life at the impressive Asiatique Riverfront, where it can be experienced along with some magnificent boutique shopping, and riverside dining and drinking.
Alongside the Joe Lewis Theatre you’ll find the Calypso Cabaret, which also took the opportunity to relocate and reinvent itself at the new Asiatique Riverfront. While Bangkok has no shortage of ladyboy cabaret shows, the Calypso Cabaret is perhaps the best, and the only one which can rival the legendary Tiffany and Alcazar Cabaret shows in Pattaya.
If you’ve never been to a ladyboy cabaret show before prepare yourself for a night of stunning transsexuals in high heels and glitzy, extravagant costumes, performing over-the-top dance routines, while lip syncing to classic songs and pop tunes from around the world.
By Kim Loe.