Play arises from ashes of tragic Bangkok fire

Dunedin theatre practitioners  (from left) Richard Huber, Martyn Roberts and Simon O'Connor at Allen Hall with an installation showing  the Kader Toy Factory fire in 1993. Photo by Nigel Benson.
Dunedin theatre practitioners (from left) Richard Huber, Martyn Roberts and Simon O'Connor at Allen Hall with an installation showing the Kader Toy Factory fire in 1993. Photo by Nigel Benson.

A tragic fire at a Bangkok toy factory has inspired a unique international Dunedin theatre project.

Airport Conversations is a collaboration between Dunedin theatre company Afterburner and Melbourne group In The Company Of Pleasure.

Dunedin theatre practitioners Simon O'Connor, Richard Huber and Martyn Roberts have been invited to the Bundanon Artist Residency in New South Wales to workshop the play next month.

Airport Conversations is based on the Kader Toy Factory fire in Bangkok on May 10, 1993, which is considered the worst industrial factory fire in history.

It killed 188 people and seriously injured more than 500.

New Zealand singer-songwriter Don McGlashan wrote the 2006 song Toy Factory Fire about the blaze.

"The Kader Toy Factory was making toys, like Bart Simpson dolls, for the New Zealand, Australian, British and American Christmas market," O'Connor explains.

"We started discussing what, as consumers, our relationship is with global consumerism. We as consumers are cut off from the consequences. That's a big ethical issue. Because it's somewhere else, we don't think about it. How do we take responsibility for our actions when we're insulated from them?"

The trio travelled to Bangkok earlier this year to interview survivors of the fire and families of the victims.

"It was very moving at times and, in two or three instances, we had to turn the camera off," O'Connor says.

"The piece is laced with testament from the victims' families and survivors. We took an eight-hour bus trip to Mahasarakam to interview a woman who was in the fire. She worked on the fourth floor of the factory and jumped from the second floor. She broke her legs and her back.

She's a lawyer now and wants to be a judge, but they won't let her, because she's crippled. She's still angry about that fire."

The project has been funded by Creative New Zealand for the past two years.

"This will be the fourth workshop we've had, but it will be the first time we'll have the whole company of eight together, from Dunedin and Melbourne," Huber says.

"It's an interesting project, because the piece is about the critical issue of survival, globalised production and consumerism, but we've had to globalise to do it."

Airport Conversations is based on two businessmen travelling separately to Bangkok who communicate through Skype at airports.

"It's rare to have a collaboration like this," Roberts said.

"It's a global story that could potentially have a very large audience." The trio leaves for Australia on December 10 and returns to Dunedin on Christmas Eve.

Airport Conversations will premiere in Melbourne next year on the 20th anniversary of the Kader Toy Factory fire.

It will then tour Southeast Asia and there are plans to submit it for consideration at the next Otago Festival of the Arts, in 2014.

nigel.benson@odt.co.nz