Siam Mission: The Musical

By: Dawn SRV

Aug 31 2012

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Category: Music and Art

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In Thailand, musical play “The King and I” does not receive any regard all that much. Some Thai may even find it insulting because the story is not all true. The only true part was that Mrs. Anna Leonowens taught in court during the reign of King Mongkut and was (the then) Prince Chulalongkorn’s English teacher. Two years after she left Siam, Anna wrote two books which have become the origin of the musical play.

Research team headed by Associate Professor Charunee Hongcharu has started working on this play in August 2010. In her own words, she expressed that “The King and I” obviously had negative impact on the country’s image even if it was only a play. Since the research team members are lecturers in Chulalongkorn University which has provided Musical Theatre course for more than 30 years, it is about time that they express their feelings toward “The Kind and I” through “Siam Mission: the Musical”. The team has been working hard for almost two years, collecting evidences, facts and producing one of the most beautiful books.

Charunee wrote all new songs in this play. She is also the Music Director and Conductor of the orchestra. So, music was beautiful and well presented.

This musical is the annual play staged by Department of Drama Arts, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. So, the whole department put in all efforts. The show was enjoyable and gave the audience more foods for thought about “using might to suppress those (who were made) inferior, so as to justify that a person or country is superior. When in fact such person or country is being or doing the contrary just to fulfill and confirm his/her desired identity.”

For readers who are not familiar with this period, following passage may give you a clearer picture.

Excerpt from Thai PR.net
An Interview with the Director of Siam Mission: The Musical – Mr. Dangkamol Na Pompejara – Head of Drama Arts Department, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
This play is part of the research on creating a musical play. It has started when Associate Professor Charunee Hongcharu, Head of Research Programme on creating a musical play has planned for a musical play to commemorate the 100th year of King Chulalongkorn’s passing away.
In the beginning, we began by thinking of a musical to study on illusionary presentation about Anna and Siam. We did not want to counterattack Anna Leonowens. Rather, we tried to understand why she had to make up a story and presented herself as a superior person in her novel so much that it gave bad images to Siam and King Mongkut. When we made a study, we found that she had an inferiority complex about her identity and value that she had to hide and build a new one.
But the “Anna” we have known is not the same one anyway. The world renowned Anna, despised by many Thais is the character in the musical “The King and I”, created from Margaret Landon’s novel “Anna and The King of Siam”. Landon’s novel and the musical have blown up so many things from the real Anna’s book. In conclusion, we hate the Anna in the musical and thought of the character as her real self. This is the power of repeating image by the media. Although it is only a novel, it can be real in many people’s mind. So, this play reflects an issue on being absorbed in illusion as well, either making self image or judging other people from their image, knowingly or unknowingly. Many people, many groups in the play suppress, take advantage, oppose, blame, punish and harm others just to cover up their inferiority complex and make their self confidence clear. Their behavior is like a “drop of honey” that spreads out unbridgeable conflict.
Although the content is rather heavy, presentation in the form of musical makes it simple and enjoyable. Songs are the action of the story not repeating what the characters have said or done. Our research team believes that while musical is enjoyable, it can communicate thought, wisdom and mental meaning. Sights and songs in the musical enable us to communicate with the audience deeper, wider and more precise.
Q: Why does it have to be “Siam Mission: the Musical” during this time?
A: The story occurs in Siamese Embassy in London during King Chulalongkorn’s first state visit to Europe in 1897 to cultivate diplomatic relations with European countries and exchange diplomatic conversation with countries which Siam has had to yield territory to. While in London, His Majesty granted an audience to Mrs. Anna Leonowens who had been his English teacher, even if she had written two novels discrediting Siam and the King. Three main characters on the Siamese side – a diplomat, a scholarship student and a military officer were on duty to usher Mrs. Anna and her family. As Thais, they had to choose what to do. Now, what would happen if these three Thai patriots did not think the same and contradicted each other?
During the reigns of King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn, Siam was undergoing reforms, not only for modernizing the country but also to face the colonizing network from the west who compete for as well as come to agreement in allocating benefits from territories and resources of inferior countries in Africa and Asia. However, the major issue was not about fighting external danger full of manpower, money power and political tricks. Rather, it was about fighting internal danger. Rapid change of country management system to defend forbidding dangers caused power conflicts, dignity conflicts and benefits of some governing elite groups. Making the matter worse, conservative and modern patriots disagreed with each other in terms of political ideal and the reform of administrative/social system.
During the study, we did a lot of research on how people in that period talked or wrote so that we could understand their thoughts and points of view. We went through archives recorded by royal entourages, royal letters, telegrammes and royal speeches during the trip.
Q: Would you like to say something to the audience?
A: “Let’s learn from the past to understand the present and comprehend the future.”

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