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I Didn’t Launch a Thousand Ships: Ngam Nah

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Period:05 Sep 2014 - 23 Sep 2014

Address:65/1, Soi Thonglor, Sukhumvit 55 Rd., Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110 Thailand

Service day:Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Service hours: 20:00-23:00

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Official description

Is it my fault I wasn’t born beautiful? What is beauty? What’s it like to be beautiful? And should I feel ashamed for not having that quality?

Sasapin Siriwanij will give a solo performance to make audiences to ponder these questions next month.

Inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus’s famous line, “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?”, which refers to Helen of Troy, I Didn’t Launch A Thousand Ships: Ngam Nah speaks on behalf of a woman who has a face that couldn’t hope to launch any ship, and lives under the curse that “unpretty women can’t be choosers”.

The show will be Sasapin’s directorial debut with B-Floor Theatre.

It touches on issues of womanhood, beauty and its decline, social oppression, inequality and current social and political issues through her physical movement and facial expressions.

Sasapin began acting in 2005 while studying at Chulalongkorn University. She has worked with several theatre companies and has performed with B-Floor Theatre since 2009.

Last year she performed a butoh show titled Womanities at the eighth International Butoh Festival. In July, she performed in Welcome to OoooLand!

I Didn’t Launch a Thousand Ships: Ngam Nah will be staged in the B-Floor Room at Pridi Banomyong Institute, Soi Thong Lor, every Fri to Tues from Sept 5-23 (except Sept 6) at 8pm.

Tickets at the door cost 500 baht (450 baht for advanced tickets). Visit goo.gl/Nii4H0, email bfloortheatre@gmail.com or call 089-167-4039.

Rating

Editorial Reviews

Sasapin Siriwanij performs in I Didn’t Launch A Thousand Ships (Ngam Na).

Sasapin Siriwanij stood defiant in the rain. In front of her was the shallow circular pool of Pridi Banomyong Institute courtyard, surrounded by shoes — boots, heels, flip-flops, sandals, trainers, flats, pumps. The actress was clad in a blood-red dress, her head crowned with a wig of the same shade. On top of the wig was a flimsy structure from which she slowly unfurled a scroll containing a collage of texts, in Thai and English — poems, song lyrics, official guides, government propaganda and campaigns — on beauty, especially female beauty. As she read the words, Sasapin went around the pool, placing her feet inside all the mismatched shoes. Her struggle was apparent, but it only made her actions and voice more defiant. She even fell into the pool, only to get up and continue her act until the end.

The audience was then ushered into B-Floor Room, where they had to crouched their way through a white, rubbery tunnel stained with red, before emerging in a room with walls painted a flesh-pink colour. From the ceiling hung torn material that resembled both sails and human skin, stretched, ripped and bloody. The floor and the seats were soft, with foamy mats covered with transparent plastic sheets painted in violent strokes of red.

We were inside the skin.

Despite such visceral set design (by Surachai Petsangrot), Sasapin’s first full-scale production, I Didn’t Launch A Thousand Ships (Ngam Na), ended up feeling less like an intimate journey into a disturbed soul than it did political and social commentary.

Once inside the room, Sasapin took her time through each scene, sometimes repeating similar actions for what felt like more than 10 minutes. She was always captivating, though. In one of the early scenes, she wrapped herself in rubbery material attached to the wall. She stretched it toward the audience and lay on the floor for several minutes. With only her head exposed, she goggled her eyes and contorted her face. Soon her body and the floor were covered by a video projection of numbers, from one to 19. Did the last number denote our last teen year — the end of our youth, perhaps — or a particular date? The image of a jail cell then spread across Sasapin’s body as she lay still.

The actress stood up and, realising our presence, became embarrassed and ashamed of herself. She tried to beautify herself. Her face attempted one smile after another, only to collapse back into exaggerated contortions. Certainly, this wasn’t the face that launched a thousand ships.

Thais attach a lot of our sense of self to the face, as can be seen in our language. Na dan (hardened face) means to be shameless. Na taek (broken face) means to be embarrassed. The Thai portion of the show’s title, Ngam Na, can literally be translated as “beautiful face”. Figuratively, it connotes a sarcastic tone that means to cause someone shame. To me, the expression reeks of Thailand’s patronage and authoritarian culture — something someone in the position of power says to or about someone in a weaker position, with the intention to shame them for having committed a disgraceful act.

This powerlessness could be seen throughout the show, not just in Sasapin’s smile-averse face, but also in her body. Sasapin often moved like a marionette, as if her body were outside of her control — her beauty in the eye of the beholder, constantly subject to judgement.

Ngam Na is not just a comment on the unrealistic social expectations, but also on how Thai beauty ideals are inextricably linked to equally unrealistic moral standards and an authoritarian culture.

As Sasapin stepped into those shoes at the beginning of the show, it looked as though she was making a plea for empathy for the plight of women. When the shoes reappeared, however, they became even more of an impediment, violently restricting her freedom. Sasapin wasn’t asking her audience to step into her or anyone else’s shoes.

She was making them see the prison they are in.


- I Didn’t Launch A Thousand Ships (Ngam Na) runs at B-Floor Room, Pridi Banomyong Institute until Tuesday, nightly at 8pm. Tickets are 500 baht (450 baht for advanced booking and payment). - Call 089-167-4039 or email bfloortheatre@gmail.com or visit I Didn’t Launch a Thousand Ships Facebook page.

Location

65/1, Soi Thonglor, Sukhumvit 55 Rd., Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110 Thailand

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