Travel review – Siam Niramit – Siam Niramit Thai Village, Bangkok

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Given the options for seeing Thai dance in Bangkok were mostly being presented to me as dinner shows, most of them on river boats, I thought that seeing a production that was the star of its own show (rather than a side attraction to dinner), I decided to book tickets to see Siam Niyarit, a production big enough to merit its own theater a block away from the Thailand Cultural Center (and its subway stop). My ticket was around 1100 baht (approximately twenty quid) and did include dinner, but unfortunately a late arrival from Cambodia meant that by the time I arrived at the theater I had about five minutes to get checked in and find my seat. Dinner is in an entirely separate hall next to a parking lot full of coaches, and the only food to be found was a packet of peanuts at the snack stall at the patio in front of the hall. They were searching bags for food and cameras (with a mandatory camera check – I kid you not) so I decided I’d just power through and catch dinner at a street stall afterwards. Dinner isn’t mandatory for this show, by the way: some girls who came in the same shuttle I took from the tube station (there’s one there on show nights to get you to the theater, located across an absurd number of intersections) hadn’t bought dinner. Ah well. I missed the elephant rides, too.

While I had thought the Smile of Angkor show was pretty big, Siam Niyarit blew it out of the water in the way only a show designed for a single stage, to be performed nightly, with a big budget to back it, can do. It’s basically a history of Thailand (with any negative stuff left out), hitting the peoples and dances of the various ethnic communities, showing the Chinese cultural cross-pollination in a nice narrative segment that didn’t need any language skills to follow, and ending with a big segment on the festivals of Thailand that didn’t really explain any of the festivals but did have performers dancing in the aisles.

The technical values of this production were really top notch. The lighting had obviously been very professionally designed, and the sets! They had an entire junk boat with a twenty man crew come onstage, and a little village with five or six huts that very much looked like they were full size. And this was just one of about five or six completely different scenes, each richly detailed, that graced (yet never dwarfed) the stage. Just when I thought there couldn’t be any more wow factor – they’d had live goats and chickens in the village scene – they brought out AN ELEPHANT. A real live elephant. And then a series of boats were PADDLED ACROSS THE FRONT OF THE STAGE in the pool someone had jumped into earlier. Now, maybe the boats were on little tracks – I checked and didn’t see any muscle movement from one of the women canoers – but WOW. And there was a rain scene and later some geysers, and the elephant WALKED BETWEEN THE LEVELS OF THE AUDIENCE. And during a bit about hell and heaven (if there was a plot I missed it), we had fifteen different people floating through the air dressed in gorgeous costumes, representing various mythological beings and creatures and damn, it was just all really pretty.

But you know what it wasn’t? Thai traditional dance, at least not for more than about three five minute sections, and that was what I had come to see. I was disappointed as this was my second try to see some and what I got was a spectacular that doubtlessly, in its 90 minute length, satisfied most of the audience, but left me disappointed. I will grant it was assuredly worth the price I paid (more so if I’d been able to eat beforehand), and, with its high quality design and good flow, I can’t deny that it was entertaining, if painfully loud. It just wasn’t what I wanted. The many street stalls near the tube stop (where I was quickly whisked back to) did, however, take care of my other hunger. And I think it was a really good thing that they took people’s cameras away – for some reason, the crowds at these things can be pretty rude.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, January 9, 2014. It seems to be on indefinitely.)

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