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Likay Folk Theater Troupe

Photographer: Rungroj Yongrit

 

Likay is a popular form of folk theater in Thailand. The actors, both male and female, wear flamboyant costumes decorated with glitter sequins and colorful make-up. They perform on temporary stages, consisting of garishly painted backdrops.

 

After a long prelude with a piphat orchestra playing traditional music using classical Thai instruments, the actors enact a storyline sketched out by the troupe's storyteller. They sing improvised verses and song lyrics, performing dances to piphat music.

 

The Likay plot repertoire is based on traditional folk tales, which can be quasi-historical, melodramatic, or taken from Thai literature or tragic love stories. Performances are always embellished with humour and happy endings. The main Likay cast include the hero, the heroine, the villain, the villainess and the joker.

 

In larger cities like Bangkok, the number of Likay folk troupes has diminished in recent years as a result of a dwindling crowd of spectators. But the once celebrated performing arts form remains popular in rural areas, and features at fairs, festivities and Buddhist temple ceremonies. Likay fans are most likely to be elderly. Nowadays, Likay performances have to compete with modern forms of entertainment, which is pushing troupes to get creative in order to survive.

 

The Likay troupe of Aekchai Rachan incorporates modern pop music as part of a mini concert performed by an ensemble at the end of show. They have also introduced comedic action elements and fast story telling in an attempt to attract younger audiences. The troupe's owner, Nitikorn Changsuwan, said that he has noticed an increase in the number of spectators over the past ten years, and that more young people are coming to watch his troupe perform.