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Sri Burapha: Memoir Of Freedom

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Period:28 Aug 2014 - 31 Aug 2014

Address:939, Rama I Rd., Wang Mai, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand

Tel:+6692-257-0667

Service hours: 16:00-22:00

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Official description

In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the death of Kularb Saipradit, the life of the politically outspoken novelist, known under the pseudonym of Sri Burapha, will be recounted through a 40s-50s-influenced musical. Directed by Pradit Prasartthong.

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Editorial Reviews

Gandhi Wasuvitchayagit as Kularb Saipradit, aka Sri Burapha

A musical that finished its run at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre last Sunday focused on a prominent Thai writer and social activist imprisoned by a dictatorial government merely for “expressing different views”.

And before those who missed it start jumping to conclusions, this tale set to music and directed by Pradit Prasartthong was inspired neither by adhesive tape-gagged journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk nor by that other contemporary rebel often in the news — McDonald’s regular Sombat Boonngamanong. For Sri Burapha: Memoir Of Freedom goes back to a much earlier period in our history, more than 60 years ago, to dramatise the struggle of wills between Kularb Saipradit, fearless newspaper editor, human rights activist and one of the Kingdom’s best-loved novelists, and the dictatorial government of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram.

The musical focused on the period (more than four years) that Kularb spent in prison after being arrested on a charge of treason for political agitation that included opposing Thailand’s involvement in the Korean War and protesting vigorously against press censorship.

Despite the traditional soundtrack (khlui and saw, Thai flute and fiddle, tunes), the 1950s costumes and the time-travelling effect created by the period stage set, everything in Sri Burapha: Memoir Of Freedom felt strangely — at times hilariously so — present-day and relevant.

The musical opens with Kularb’s wife, Chanid (portrayed by Montakan Rangsipramanakul), as an elderly woman sitting alone at home. She proceeds to read out extracts from an account detailing the story of her husband’s life. This device serves to introduce the context of the musical and explain why Kularb is remembered by his compatriots today not only as a novelist (he wrote under the pen name Sri Burapha), but also as a relentless journalist who fought for democracy and human rights and whose activism led to his imprisonment here and eventual exile in China, where he died in 1974.

Chanid continues to relate highlights from Kularb’s life at different points throughout the musical, but Montakan also reverts, at times, to playing a younger version of her character. While the actress’ singing voice is not perfect, she is most effective in projecting the image of a forceful, self-possessed but elegant personality, the very epitome of the inner strength one imagines was necessary to hold a family together (the couple had two children) through some very tough times.

The other side of the stage at the BACC was set up as a prison cell, where Kularb, played by Gandhi Wasuvitchayagit, sits upright, concentrating on reading and writing, while the other inmates lament their fate. This incredibly calm and positive attitude was to persist throughout the performance, with Gandhi reciting at times from Kularb’s memoirs, engaging in conversations with fellow prisoners or rendering songs, the lyrics for which, director Pradit says, were inspired by Kularb’s own writings.

Other notable incidents in the novelist’s life were touched on, intermittently shuffled in through the use of flashbacks: from when he first falls in love with Chanid (the younger version of Kularb is played by Danaya Buntasnakul) to the courageous stance he takes in negotiations with Field Marshal Plaek, played by the director himself. In a later interview Pradit made it clear that he deliberately minimised the role of the military strongman, with Field Marshal Plaek making very few appearances, but the few lines Pradit’s character is given to sing — rousing phrases like “Trust in your leader” and “Get rid of anyone who resists us” — were sufficient to give this production the necessary gravity and suggest a latter-day relevance.

But putting its coincidental timeliness to one side (the show was planned last year, long before the recent political upheaval in the country), this musical memoir to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Kularb’s death was straightforward — too much so, perhaps.

The mixture of piano and cello with traditional Thai instruments was very much reminiscent of another piece directed by Pradit, last year’s 2475 The Musical, a drama about the immense difficulties faced by Thanpuying Phoonsuk Banomyong when her husband, former prime minister Pridi Banomyong, was forced to flee the country and their son was thrown into jail.

Both musicals are set in the same period and deal with similar subject matter. But while his portrayal of the deep love between Thanpuying Phoonsuk and her imprisoned son was easily achieved, Pradit faced a much tougher challenge in his attempt to draw audiences at the BACC into the topics of democracy and freedom; it was perhaps too tall an order given present-day realities.

In 2475 The Musical, there were hugs, separation and tears. In Sri Burapha: Memoir Of Freedom, there were hardly any ups and downs. From the first scene right to the very last, Kularb was depicted as a hero rather than a strong human being, his weak moments were hardly shown at all (we are still not sure why he was the only one allowed to wear a clean, white shirt, rather than a prisoner’s uniform). And, aside from the limping prisoners, the audience only heard how bad prison life was; we never saw any actual evidence of the dire conditions.

Pradit explained that because this is a musical about a well-known writer, he wanted the words to be the hero, rather than the acting. Yes, the songs were indeed beautiful, with actor Gandhi filling the position of musical director in addition to his leading role. And yes, although they were new melodies with new lyrics, Pradit did an incredibly good job of retaining the essence of some of Kularb’s best-known phrases.

But while Sri Burapha: Memoir Of Freedom was probably welcomed as a faithful depiction by those who already know the author and his body of work quite well, it could at times be a tedious introduction for audiences unfamiliar with the man and this troubled period in our history. And this is where a more fictional, dramatic approach might have proved more effective. Younger members of the audience needed to see what Kularb could do, rather than hear what he would do (from the songs he sang and the passages he read aloud). If some viewers did believe and fall in love with this character, it was probably more with the Kularb already inside their heads rather than the one standing there on the stage.

Location

939, Rama I Rd., Wang Mai, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand

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