The Phuket Simon Cabaret – Two Decades of Entertainment Success
Now nearing its 20th anniversary, the Phuket Simon Cabaret, which was established on the 18th of October 1991, has always been an example of remarkable growth throughout its history, ascending from a modest total of only 30 artists and staff combined to more than 200 performers appearing on stage during every representation alone during present days. And there are two things that the dancers at the Phuket Simon Cabaret have in common, one of which clearly sets them apart from any other similar establishments in Thailand and, perhaps, the world: their passion for entertainment and the fact that they are all either transgender or transvestites.
However, the inevitable questions that arise from the fact are of such nature that they challenge the cabaret’s evolution into such an immensely successful business, while also probing what it actually has to offer and whether the hype around it matches the show’s value.
Originality in the Making: Covering a Niche
Although cross-dressing has been a common practice in Europe ever since before the age of Shakespeare about 500 years ago, when male actors used to dress as women when interpreting female roles because the latter gender was banned from appearing on stage altogether, the practice quickly started fading away once the bans were lifted. In fact, men only dressed as women during representations on a common basis again as late as World War II, when female actors were very scarce on front-line theatre scenes.
Nevertheless, full-scale transvestites were very rare even in those times, with most actors often choosing to only wear minimal amounts of female clothes rather than full make-up and accessories.
On the other hand, Thailand has always had a more tolerant attitude towards both transvestites and, more recently, transgenders. The late 1980s, however, began to see that attitude shift towards quite a harsh discrimination, as people began frowning upon those freely expressing their transgender or transvestite status.
It was in this context that Mrs. Virat Ruayrin and her husband came into the scene. Owning a small beer pub in Pattaya, the two began organising a low-scale transvestite competition in their establishment. The idea quickly gathered unexpected momentum, however, as it attracted increasing numbers of visitors, and soon the need came to open a larger venue. Thus, the Phuket Simon Cabaret was born on Patong Beach, where it exists to this day, attracting the curious or entertainment-seeking tourists.
And the main reason behind that is its uniqueness: at its time, the Phuket Simon Cabaret was the sole of its kind in Thailand – and, perhaps, the world. It successfully covered a niche that it still controls to this day. But is that the only thing that accounts for the Cabaret’s appeal, or is there more to it?
The short answer to that question is “yes”. There is more that makes the Phuket Simon Cabaret so successful, and that “more” is brought by the more than 200 dancers performing twice every night – from 19:45 and from 21:30 – for about 90 minutes every time, seven days a week, without ever becoming tired. All of them are either transgender or transvestites, all of them love the show and all of them spend countless hours preparing every performance.
This is because originality is not easy. Putting on the make-up and heavy costumes takes at least a couple of hours before every show, while rehearsals and exercises take up a large part of the rest of the day.
What is more, because they are biologically male, the dancers cannot afford the strength exercises that comprise a large portion of a regular male or female dancer’s training schedule. This is because the way they would build up muscles would cancel out the medical and hormonal treatments they require in order to maintain their feminine aspect.
Instead, the dancers employ more stretching and endurance elements into their daily training programme, alongside the ballet, jazz and contemporary dancing classes they take under the supervision of the resident choreograph, Jarvey de la Paz.
Furthermore, the performers are constantly required to rehearse each other’s roles. The pressures of daily shows and a demanding public that requires more and more quality and originality with every performance allow very little room for error. Thus, whenever one of the dancers falls ill or goes on holiday leave, another one jumps in immediately to fill in his female shoes. But is all of this effort worthwhile for the viewer?
Value for Money: Something for Everyone
Again, the short answer is “yes”. For 700 baht (US$23) for a Standard adult ticket and 800 baht (US$26) for a VIP one, and 500 and 600 baht respectively (US$16.5 and US$19.5) for children under 130cm tall, the viewers enjoy 90 minutes of entertainment inspired by countries and cultures from all over the world and complemented by state-of-the-art lighting and sound implementations. Music and songs from Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as lyrics in Thai, English, Japanese, Korean and more are designed to entertain virtually any visitor willing to buy a ticket.
Add to those some comedic imitations of present and past artists ranging from Celine Dion to Lady Gaga, with Whitney Houston and Madonna in-between, during which the dancers actually mimic singing rather than performing live – again due to their biologically male nature – and the fun becomes even more intense.
Of course, the show is by no means Broadway-like in quality or performer talent, but it achieves its main purpose well – and that is to entertain. Complete the aforementioned elements with dancers who sometimes spice up the atmosphere by going off the stage to kiss and hug members of the public seated in the first row or in the extremities of the middle rows, and the recipe for a fun evening is complete.
Is It Worth It?
Finally, the most important question of all: is all this worth it? Reviewers on the Internet do see a couple of downsides.
Firstly, there is the apparent chaos before the show, when cars struggle to get through the crowds of people forming disorganised queues in front of the entrance. However, ushers and staff are quick to check everyone’s tickets and have them seated properly just before the start of the actual show.
Then there’s the end of the show, when the viewers are herded towards the side exit, where they are greeted by the smiling performers offering to take pictures with them. However, they then ask for a fee, usually around 100 baht (US$3.25). And, even though there is no specific written notice for this, the artists may become quite adamant in demanding their photo fees.
Nevertheless, there are few people who actually complain about the show itself – most of those considering it average rather than bad. Even those who don’t end up liking it, however, recommend it at least for a first-time, one-time experience.
And for those not willing to fly to Thailand to see the show, there is still hope: according to its president and founder, Mrs. Ruayrin, the Cabaret intends to embark on one or more world tours some time in the future, to promote their art even more internationally.
What: The Phuket Simon Cabaret
When: Daily from 19:45 and 21:30
Where: Phuket Simon Cabaret
8 Sirirach Road, Patong Beach, Kathu, Phuket
Price: Adults: 700 baht Standard ticket; 800 baht VIP ticket.
Children under 130cm tall: 500 baht Standard ticket; 600 baht VIP ticket.
Reservations: Website: http://www.phuket-simoncabaret.com/rate.php – it is recommended for reservations to be made at least one day in advance to avoid disappointment.