Daily Archives: March 8, 2005

Watching a likay

When I was driving through Taiban late last night I noticed a brightly lit stage in the middle of a deserted parking lot. This was instantly recognizable as likay which is a form of Thai folk opera/drama. Despite the fact that they were probably 200 metres away, I could still hear them singing very clearly. As I wanted to take some pictures to share with you, I decided to return again the following evening. I made a mental note to bring some ear plugs.

I went back again at about 8.30 p.m. this evening. There was a total of three people in the audience which included myself. Actually, I wasn’t surprised as the speakers were turned up extremely loud and they were hurting my eardrums even with the ear plugs in. What was more surprising was that one of the audience was able to talk on the phone. Looking around I noticed half a dozen people about half a mile away watching the performance. They had the right idea. Why does everything have to be so loud in Thailand?

Likay is a kind of musical drama with humour and satire mixed in for good measure. It is more commonly performed at festivals and temple fairs. I am not sure what this occasion was as there wasn’t many people around. It is possible it was a show put on for dead ancestors or the gods. You sometimes see that with the Chinese street opera. No-one seems to mind that there are hardly ever anyone in the audience as they are mainly playing for the deceased. Maybe that is why they play the music so loudly – they are trying to wake the dead.

You can see from some of the photos above how outlandish and over-the-top the make-up and costumes are for these performances. The actors look like walking Christmas trees complete with fairy lights. The scene that was playing when I first arrived was apparently romantic in nature. However, this soon ended and the MC, for some reason, decided to interrupt the show by having a conversation with the “farang” in the audience. The usual questions starting with “Where are you from?”. I don’t normally mind engaging in these kinds of conversations, however, it was a little on the embarrassing side to have everything broadcast in a two block radius.

After this little interlude, a singer and some dancers came onto the stage and started singing some luk thoong. This is the Thai version of country music. At this stage, with so few people in the audience and the seats seemingly to be free, I was wondering how they managed to cover costs let alone make a profit. Then it became apparent. Members of the audience (the other two people present) were paying money for a garland to be placed around the neck of their favourite singer or leading actors.

After a few more of these songs I really wanted to leave in order to give my eardrums a rest. However, I felt obliged to stay as the performers now knew me “personally”. I didn’t want to upset them by walking out in the middle of a performance. However, I had really come to see some musical stage performance which would have been far more interesting. But this was now turning into a kind of variety show. I waited for the MC to finish introducing the next song and then I quietly slipped away before the song started.