Likay (Thai: ลิเก, RTGS: like) is a form of popular folk
theatre from Thailand. Its uniqueness is found in the combination of
extravagant costumes with barely equipped stages and vaguely
determined storylines, so that the performances depend mainly on the
actors' skills of improvisation and the audiences' imagination.
2.2 Popular characters
6 External links
There are several competing ideas about the origins and development of
likay. However, the most likely is that likay has roots in the Malay
jikey, an Islamic chant. Since there is a wide gap between this
religious performance and folk entertainment, it is also possible that
Likay derives from India instead, especially as there are many Indian
dance gestures found in the actors' performances.
The lack of historic references also creates controversy about the
first emergence of likay, but it is most likely to have emerged as a
distinct form of theatre in the late-19th century. Today the
performances mainly take place in rural areas, at temple fairs, and
private sponsored events. Even though TV and radio still broadcast
performances of likay, this form of folk theatre is becoming
The likay story repertoire ranges from historic incidents to well
known folk tales larded with humorous anecdotes. The main characters
are phra (hero), nang (heroine), kong (villain), itcha (villainess),
and joker (male or female clowns) in the roles of stereotyped
princesses, kings, and lower class figures with caricatured
appearances and a lot of freedom in speech. Their fates unfold in
stories of love which usually involve overcoming obstacles, as well as
in family dramas which always have a happy ending. Although the
language and character of some of the figures are rude and barely
represent appropriate decency, good and bad are sharply distinguished
and the troupes leave the audience with a clear moral with the good
always defeating the bad.
The figures Khun Chang and Khun Paen are amongst the most popular
characters in likay. Based on a well-known
Thai folklore tale (named
after the two main characters Khun Chang Khun Phaen) about a dramatic
love triangle, the two men compete for one beautiful woman and
reappear in countless likay performances.
Another popular character borrowed from local ghost folklore is Mae
Phra Khanong. Her story, also about love and death, focuses on her
afterlife as a ghost. Her unbreakable love for her husband, even
beyond death, and the terror she spreads out of jealousy and anger
repeatedly finds new interpretations in likay folk theatre.
"Awk khaek" (Thai: ออกแขก; RTGS: ok khaek) is the
performance before likay begins when the performer comes out with an
Indian-Malaysian costume to sing and dance to a song. Awk khaek
came from India with the Malayan Peninsula group that came to Siam
during the Ayutthaya period (1259-1767 CE), but this performance
has changed with time. There is disagreement where the name comes
from, but L. Allan Eubank says that the word "awk" means "out" and the
word "khaek" is the Thai word for Indian. The importance of awk
khaek is to tell everyone to know that the likay will start soon.
In general, after an hour-long prelude with piphat music, the plot and
dialogue follow a basic outline given by the troupe's storyteller,
unfolding through the actors' improvised verses, song lyrics, and
action. This impromptu performance is supported by musicians who
capture and highlight the spontaneous development with their
instruments, often including both modern pop music and traditional
country music. Dances appear only rarely when an actor or actress
feels like the situation calls for it.
Originally the troupes' actors were all men but nowadays men and women
play together. It appears that there is a strong bond between
audience and performers, so that it is very common for the story to
unfold in a way that pleases the audiences or for the audience to be
addressed directly. This is especially true for the joker, who is
allowed to switch between the performance and the audience, adding a
sense of open interaction. The audience is also drawn into the play by
the need for their imagination. As likay troupes are itinerant and
have no fixed venue, the makeshift stage and repertoire usually does
not offer more than a bench (tiang) which allows the actors to play
most scenes, and the rough setting of a palace garden and a forest.
The audience has to listen carefully to the explanation of space and
time by the actors or storyteller and imagine the scenery
Likay is famous for its flamboyant costumes. Heavy make-up, from the
darkest black eyeliner to the brightest red lipstick, and colorful,
glittering, fake jewels for both men and women are standard.
Responsible for most of the outfitting themselves, the actors not only
bring their costumes but also create their own masks. For men, the
costume includes colorful or golden stuffed knickerbockers, long white
socks, blouses and vests with excessive ornaments, glittering
earrings, and plumed headbands. The women wear clothes in both modern
and traditional fashions of shining silk and satin.
^ a b c d e f g h i j
^ a b c Sukphisit, Suthon (1995). The vanishing of Thailand: Folk Arts
and Folk Culture.
^ a b c d Asia⁄Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU). "Lakhon
^ a b c d
^ a b c d
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-16. Retrieved
^ "Awk khake".
^ "Likay... Dramatic Performance of Thai Life". encyclopediathai.org.
Archived from the original on October 28, 2009.
^ a b Allan, Eubank. "Dance-Drama before the Throne". Thai Christian
Foundation. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
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