A physical theatre piece marking the 40th anniversary of 6 October has opened in Bangkok, exploring the mob mentality that sustained the event’s violence.
“Fundamental”, directed by Teerawat Mulvilai, is a physical theatre piece performed by the Thai avant-garde political theatre group B-floor. Presented by a cast over a dozen strong, the highly acrobatic, energetic piece delivers a wordless examination of how mob mentalities can lead people to delight in violence.
Teerawat Mulvilai is known for his politically sharp physical theatre productions, such as last year’s “Iceberg” in his Sathapana (The Establishment) series which criticised mainstream Thai society’s political apathy. “Fundamental” now explores the mentality of the perpetrators behind the 6 October massacre and how the event relates to Thai society today.
The 1976 Thammasat University massacre, an often-omitted chapter in Thai history classes, was an event where over a hundred students were killed when military and paramilitary forces invaded the university. The violence was triggered after a student dramatisation protesting dictator Thanom Kittikachorn’s return from Singapore was alleged to contain a scene depicting the hanging of the crown prince.
However erased the October 6 event, the iconic photo taken by Neal Ulevich of a student being beaten to death with a chair while surrounded by a jolly, laughing crowd cannot easily be forgotten. It is this moment in time that “Fundamental” explores.
“Fundamental,” directed by Teerawat Mulvilai. Photo courtesy of B-Floor’s Facebook page
With the impressive physical skill that is B-floor’s signature, the cast rises from apathetic, zombie-like shuffles to climaxing waves of violence in an escalating pendulum. Stampedes and marches echo throughout the space as a horrific witch-hunt begins, convening upon victims. Is it funny, the spectacle asks, to hold someone down on a road divider and step on their head? Yes, if a crowd is cheering you on. Violence in such a moment becomes a sport for both spectators and participants.
When groups are armed with weapons and the idea that “killing communists is not wrong” — as spoken by a popular monk at the time — campuses run red with blood and laughter. One can imagine that the spear-wielding boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and the 6 October aggressors shared a similar satisfaction, as well as the same urge to high-five each other, after smashing the bones of people with unpopular ideas.
“Fundamental” explores the violent yet riveting drama of citizen vs. citizen conflict. It plays until 2 October, except on Mondays and Tuesdays, at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center (BACC), as part of the centre’s fifth Performative Arts Festival. Book now at their Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of B-Floor’s Facebook page