If you want to see lazy, offensive stereotypes of Thailand, head down to The Brewery to catch John Moran’s Goodbye Thailand. Not only is it a poorly-executed piece of performance but it also manages to seem racist, misogynist and cultually insensitive in the space of an hour.
Let’s start with the piece itself. So rambling that it was almost impossible to discern the events that make up the slender narrative, Goodbye Thailand seems to present everything you’d hope to avoid from an American living in Bangkok, without an iota of subtlety. It starts promisingly enough, with Moran entering as himself. He sits, front and centre, introduces the piece and tells us a bit about his work. He’s been a composer for 25 years, he tells us, and is interested in collecting sounds, deconstructing them and making music from the resulting noises. Sounds great. But he’s not going to do that tonight. He’s going to show us a film of his time in Amsterdam and Bangkok, and tell us a story about his time there.
The story itself is incoherent to the point of causing extreme frustration. Having told us how “exotic” Thailand is (an instant black mark, in my book), he tells us about these fascinating creatures called Ladyboys, who combine extreme femininity with masculine aggression. Because, as we all know, aggression is a purely masculine trait, right? As far as I can make out, from the bizarrely looping and puzzling narrative, an American man goes to Bangkok and starts a relationship with a ladyboy. He then goes to Amsterdam and hopes in his absence that she will get a job. She doesn’t, but she does concoct a scheme to open a food stand, which she wants him to finance. He doesn’t have the money, so she sulks. At some point he walks into a door, I think, but the lighting cues are all over the place so it’s hard to tell.
All of this is presented through snippets of film, and through Moran lip-synching to voice-overs of all the characters. This is not done well. Lip-synching looks so messy unless it is spot on and this is a long way from perfect. Furthermore, to watch Moran, a white, middle-aged man, impersonate a ladyboy borders on grotesque. He simpers, he pouts, he minces. It’s everything you would hope we had moved on from: lazy, ineffectual and deeply offensive.
At points it is so bad that it’s almost funny, but in the main it’s a hugely uncomfortable hour’s viewing. Disappointing in its portrayal of Thailand and Thai people, and in its ability to carry off its own technical requirements. It’s really quite difficult to see how this show got made. Did no-one watch an early draft and tell Moran how he’s coming across, tell him that it’s really not OK to put this thinly-veiled (presumably unintentional) racism onstage? Truly, one of the most problematic pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. Avoid at all costs.
Goodbye Thailand is at The Brewery in Bristol as part of Mayfest until 23 May.