The Lunchbox | IHOS TheatreImage © Christine Scott

Opera on a Saturday afternoon is not something everyone readily experiences, except perhaps at festivals such as Ten Days on the Island. But when the offering is a new work presented by a respected company with a history of cutting edge operatic presentation, it becomes an option more people should consider.

The Lunchbox is the latest offering by IHOS Theatre. It is a cross cultural enterprise and when I say cross cultural, I really mean cross cultural! The composer and librettist are Thai (Thanapoom Sirichang) and (Bringkop Vora-Urai), the director is European born, Sydney-based (Joey Ruigrock Van Der Werven), the lighting designer is French-born, Sydney-based (Sydney Bouhaniche), the soprano is Italian/Thai (Monique Klongtruadroke) and the baritone is also Thai (Saran Suebsantiwongse). The conductor is Tasmanian (Michael Lampard) and as far as I can tell the musicians are Australian (more on them later).

As you may have gathered from the above, the libretto is set in Thailand and it tells a simple tale of the ultimately tragic relationship between a mother and her son, based on a true story that happened 300 years ago in rural Thailand. The lighting is subtle but still somehow striking. The costumes are traditional Thai which set the appropriate mood and even the stage-bound musicians are adorned in complimentary batik shirts. The staging was every bit as good. Rice fields on stage complete with dust. A roll out Thai hut and a working wok lent support to the austere setting.

Musically I understand there is a big difference between traditional Thai music and Western contemporary classical music. From my untrained perspective, the composer has achieved a wonderfully delicate balance. The music always seemed to support and enhance the work and one could not mistake the Thai feel despite the use of traditional western instruments (violin, clarinet, cello, flute, keyboards and percussion). As practitioners, again the musicians were, to my ears, skilled and focused.

Monique Klongtruadroke was marvellous as the selfless mother. Such power, from such a tiny frame and her acting was also exemplary. Saran Suebsantiwongse as the baritone was every bit as good as a singer but I felt he lacked the same power in his acting. Mind you, the story was perhaps too simple to allow any real interpretation in performance. While we do not necessarily want anything too complex, there must be sufficient substance in any story so as to allow an audience to develop a deeper connection to the production.

The Playhouse audience, maybe half of the theatre's capacity, certainly loved the show. The director and the composer joined the cast for a rousingly enthusiastic curtain call. Saturday afternoon opera ... I can just see it happening.

IHOS Music Theatre and Opera presents
Composer Thanapoom Sirichang | Librettist Bringkop Vora-Urai

Venue: The Playhouse, 106 Bathurst Street
Dates: 26 & 27 March at 6pm, 28 March at 1pm & 6pm
Duration: 1hr (No interval)
Tickets: $40, Concession $30
Online Bookings:

Mark Cutler is a Hobart based writer/performer

This review is part of [email protected]’s Critical Acclaim program, designed to increase critical analysis of the arts.

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