French-Khmer Play Shines the Spotlight on Lives of Prostitutes

Two brilliant actresses supported by two consummate musicians, moving through a series of vignettes in which light sarcasm makes way for sung poetry and dance.

As they alternate between light and shadows, the two women speak of their trade: prostitution.

A work in progress presented tonight by the theater company Kok Thlok at the French Cultural Center, the play is titled “Srey Khouch,” or depraved woman, a term used for prostitutes in Khmer. Its French title is “Belle de nuit,” or night beauty.

Staged with great flair, the play moves at a fast pace as monologues and dialogues are coupled with acrobatics, singing and dance.

Based on a French-Khmer poetic text from Nantarayao Samputho’s book “Le Cambodge en voix off,” or “Cambodia in off-screen voice,” the play neither condemns nor condones the profession, but simply points out that if there were no de­mand for their services, sex workers would not exist. While looked down upon by society, they get visited by men from all walks of life, the characters point out.

In the play, French actress Aurelie Ianutolo speaks in French and Cam­bodian actress Long Malisse in Khmer, their repartee constructed in a way that the meaning in either language is clear. Some scenes are more mime than dialogue—even a person who does not know French or Khmer would probably have no difficulty following the story.

In the course of the 50-minute show, French musician Adrien Gay­raud and Cambodian musician Teang Kannika play more than 10 instruments and intervene several times in black with white masks.

The project was a collaboration between Kok Thlok and the French organization Chantier Art, with the text selected by the French NGO.

The Cambodian artists hesitated at first, as prostitution is not a topic discussed in Cambodian society, Ms Malisse and Mr Kannika said. They eventually decided to go ahead with it but made sure that no word considered unacceptable in Cambodia would be used in the text, they said.

Tonight’s performance of “Srey Khouch” begins at 7 pm. Admission is free.

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.