the purely classical form, Thai drama and
khon masked drama is derived from Indian temple rituals and
dancing and draws its story line from the ,
the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana. During , the khon was acted by accomplished male
court retainers playing both male and female roles because until
the 19th century the movements were thought too strenuous for
women to perform. By the mid 1800's both men and women were
appearing on stage together.
performances are characterized by vigorous, highly-formalized
action. Acting and dancing are inseparable, each step having a
definite meaning which is emphasized by precisely defined
to suggest walking, marching, laughing, etc. Because some actors
and actresses are masked and cannot speak, narrative verses are
usually recited and sung by a chorus that sits with the
accompanying woodwind, gong, and drum ensemble. The leading male
and female performers do not wear
and on some occasions they may speak.
ornate papier mache masks, decorated with gold, lacquer, and
paste jewels, are works of art and perfectly portray the
protagonists' personalities. Costumes are made of rich brocades
adorned with sparkling costume jewellery and closely resemble
the apparel of royalty and celestial beings in classical Thai
Major characters are readily identifiable by the predominant
colours of their costumes. Phra Ram, the hero, wears deep green,
while his brother, Phra Lak, wears gold and the monkey-god
Hanuman wears white.
productions were originally so long more than 20 hours that
performances were staged on two consecutive days. Indeed, a
performance of the entire Ramakian [with 311 characters ] would
take more than one month [720 hours plus] of continuous
shorter version of the epic is used for dramatic purposes and
contemporary adaptations of certain episodes are as short as
dance drama is less formal and actors, with the exceptions of
monkeys, ogres, and other non-human, non-celestial beings, do
not wear masks, Lakhon plots are drawn mainly from the Ramakian,
the Jatakas, and folk stories, Khon and Lakhon costumes are
identical, but Lakhon dance movements are more graceful, sensual,
and fluid, the upper torso and hands being particularly
expressive with conventionalized movements portraying specific
is subdivided into numerous variation, the major three being
Lakhon Chatri, Lakhon Nok, and Lakhon Nai. Simplest of all in
form and presentation, Lakhon Chatri is often seen at popular
shrines, such as
Luk Muang [City Pillar] where dancers are hired by supplicants
whose wishes have been granted to perform for the shrine deity.
Nai drama was originally presented only by court ladies in the
palace. It was graceful, romantic, and highly stylized. Lakhon
Nok plays, on the other hand, were performed outside the palace
and acted only by men. Filled with lively music, off-colour
humor, and rapid, animated movements, Lakhon Nok was the
ancestor of the enormously popular Li-ke folk theater which is
still a feature of many provincial festivals.
a burlesque of Lakhon containing elements of pantomime, comic
folk opera, and social satire, is generally performed against a
simply painted backdrop during temple fairs. Its court-derived
stories are embellished with local references and anecdotes, and
spontaneous dialogue is freighted with outrageous puns and
neglected dramatic forms are shadow play and hun marionettes, both regular forms of
entertainment in .
In Nang Yai, intricately fashioned cowhide figures, some two
metres tall, are held against a brilliant backlit white screen.
Bearers of the figures dance their parts, the movements of which
were later to provide the pattern for Khon and Lakhon.
Nang Talung, a more popular shadow play found mainly in the
of Thailand, closely resembles the Indonesian Wayang.
Beautifully fashioned Nang Talung figures are smaller than their
Nang Yai counterparts and are often constructed to have one
moveable part-an arm, a leg, or a chin. Concealed from audience,
the manipulators are skilled singers and comedians whose
repartee keeps the action bubbling.
marionettes, seldom seen today, are superbly crafted figures
which differ from European marionettes in that they are
manipulated from concealed threads pulled from below rather than
above. A more popular version is Hun Krabok [literally "cylindrical
model"] which are similar to Punch and Judy style hand