On any given day in Bangkok you can visit museums, art galleries, historic temples, and book shops, but cutting-edge cultural festivals – the kind you find in London, New York, or Paris – are a bit more of a rarity. However, during October, November, and December this year the city will host no less than three dynamic and thought-provoking culturally significant events, spotlighting the underground worlds of literature, performance, and various visual art-forms. It’s time to open your mind and prepare to be challenged.
Date: October 26-December 15
Various locations: Bangkok and Chiang Mai
Although Siamese bureaucracy can seem a little Kafkaesque at times, the colourful, joyous, and fun-loving atmosphere of Thailand would make it the last place you’d expect to find a six-week celebration of the brooding, German-speaking Bohemian novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka. However, since founding the first Unfolding Kafka Festival in 2015, choreographer Jitti Chompee has brought the spirit of Kafka, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature, to the Kingdom with an annual festival that features art exhibitions, installations, film screenings, and dance and theatre performances – all interpreting the works of a writer who spent his life exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.
One of the most anticipated installations is ‘VRwandlung’, which runs from November 16th to December 15th at the Goethe-Institut in Bangkok. Taking its cue from one of Kafka’s most famous stories, The Metamorphosis, this virtual reality adventure allows audiences to step into the shoes of Gregor Samsa, a salesman who wakes one morning to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach. It’s an experience that underscores this year’s theme of ‘Kafka Zoo’, where the writer’s creatures will be unleashed onto Bangkok’s art scene. Another intriguing performance takes place at the Neilson Hays Library on December 6th and 7th. Entitled ‘Hard to be a God’, this bizarre adults-only performance has the audience locked inside a café where they can observe Portuguese artists John Romao and Romeu Runa reflecting on how pretentious contemporary life is.
In Bangkok the festival will be held at various venues, including the Goethe-Institut, Sodsai Pantoomkomol Center for Dramatic Arts (Chulalongkorn University), Hostbkk Theatre, Jim Thompson House, Neilson Hays Library, Rose Hotel Bangkok, and the Siam Society. In Chiang Mai the festival takes place at the Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum. Tickets range from free to THB 800, depending on the show. All-access festival passes are also available for THB 4,000 each at www.ticketmelon.com.
Date: November 1-17
Locations: BACC, and others
This year’s Bangkok Theatre Festival will be taking place at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) and other select venues. Organized under the theme ‘Theatre Farm’, this performance festival will present everything from romantic-drama musicals, to political black comedy.
One highlighted show is ‘Arabian Nights the Musical’, taking place at Saeng Arun Art and Culture Center on Sathorn Soi 10 (Nov. 8-10). In this well-known fable, a king marries a different virgin bride every evening then executes her the next morning, but one woman manages to keep herself alive by telling the king a series of entertaining stories that captivate him for 1001 nights. In a creepier vein, ‘Si Quey Chapter 1’ (BACC, Nov. 9-10) is a play inspired by the history of one of Bangkok’s most famous alleged murderers. On a more political note, ‘That Night I Love Joshua Wong’ tells the story of a middle-aged transgender conservative whose grandson looks like Joshua Wong, a liberal activist whom she despises (BACC, Nov. 14-24).
Tickets and showtimes vary for each performance. For a full programme visit bangkoktheatrefest.com
Date: November 16-17
Location: Neilson Hays Library & The British Club Stage
To celebrate its 150th anniversary, The Neilson Hays Library, in collaboration with the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), is organizing Bangkok’s first ever international literature festival. Featuring more than 30 renowned Thai and international writers from around the world, this is a chance for Bangkok’s bookworms to take part in insightful talks, panel discussions, film screenings, and poetry readings. Amongst the award-winning literary personalities from overseas will be: Adam Johnson, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize; Melissa Lucashenko, an Australian novelist who won the 2019 Miles Franklin Award; Darrel J. McLeod, an award-winning Canadian novelist of Cree descent; and US author-illustrator Mike Curato, the man behind the wildly popular Little Elliot picture books.
The list of prestigious Southeast Asian writers includes Raghu Karnad and P. Sivakami, two of India’s most notable literary talents, while the Thai literary stars include Pichaya Sudbantad, author of Bangkok Wakes to Rain, Mui Poopoksakul, lawyer-turned-translator with special interest in contemporary Thai literature, and Anusorn Tipayanon, a celebrated author, novelist and translator.
Registration begins at 8:30am each day. For a detailed festival programme visit neilsonhayslibrary.com.