It comes as no surprise that after having studied and observed medical researchers working to combat tropical maladies, B-Floor Theatre sided with the diseases.
Not that Survival Games, a physical theatre production directed by Teerawat Mulvilai and Nana Dakin, portrays scientists as incapable of feelings. On the contrary, every living organism in Survival Games is equally human.
Part of the "Art In Global Health" programme, the production received funding from the Wellcome Collection, an organisation dedicated to opening up the world of medical research to the general public through art. This was the first time the theatre company built a show around a scientific topic, and it was based on their interaction with scientists at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit. And while Survival Games seems a bit too eager to show us that it is a product of a marriage between art and science, it more than succeeds at translating the science of survival into the politics of survival that feels close to home.
In Survival Games, the image proliferated by Hollywood of disease as the enemy of mankind and man as the victim and the eventual conqueror of nature is ridiculed. Instead, the line between the disease and the heroic human figure is blurred. What constitutes "disease" ranges from microorganisms to marginalised populations to the scientists working, at times risking their lives, to find cures. Sometimes the conqueror becomes the disease. Sometimes the disease conquers. These dialogue-driven and movement-driven scenes not only reveal nature's mechanisms, but also the ugly side of the way our society defines disease and the way we treat human beings we consider our enemies, invaders, outsiders. Survival Games not only asks how we determine whose life is more important but also who is more human.
The language used in this production plays a crucial role in this. This is probably one of B-Floor's most text-heavy creations yet. Jaa Phantachat and Adam Eliot's dialogue is laden with military terms and sometimes ring like protest songs, making some of the scenes eerily reminiscent of our recent history.
As moving and poignant as the show can be, it suffers from trying to tie so many things together in one production. Interviews performers conduct with the audience as they enter the auditorium at Pridi Banomyong Institute do not amount to anything except what feels like a fun if slightly awkward interaction. Both directors have shown a keen sense of comedy in their previous creations, but in this production their quirky qualities and humour don't sting the way they usually do.
Survival Games's colour palette and design may remind you of Teerawat's Flu-O-Less Sense, created in reaction to the political events of 2010, with loud colours on performers against the smoky whiteness of the set. Enriching the production design is the respected Chiang Mai-based shadow puppet troupe Wandering Moon, whose beautiful puppets and light-and-shadow lend a sublime touch to the production but whose wonderful story-telling skills are not sufficiently used.
Survival Games continues until Jan 21, 8pm, at Pridi Banomyong Institute's auditorium. Free admission. Call 089-167-4039 or email email@example.com.
About the author
- Writer: Amitha Amranand