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The Play’s The Thing: A cultural hub in the making!

It has been a while since my last installment of The Play’s The Thing, and for that I am sorry. As you know, the COVID pandemic has made it more difficult to have things to report on. However, at this moment things are brewing in the island’s thespian world with some real promise for the theatrical future of our beloved island!

By Joel Adams

Sunday 21 March 2021, 02:00PM

Join me as we take a look at the Underwood Art Factory on the bypass road, right next door to Ikea. I am sure most of you, especially if you have been on the island a while, know the Art Factory, but if you haven’t been there lately, I encourage you to go and enjoy the Grind Café’s tasty fare in an artsy and eclectic atmosphere like no other in Phuket.

As  you enter, you are whisked off to another world with art from everywhere and every time surrounding you. Don’t take my word for it. You have to see it to believe it. I love it! In fact, the first time I ever went there, I dreamed of being able to use it for a stable repertory company here in Phuket since, at that time, it was being used only every once in a while. 

The Underwood story began in the 1980s in Australia when John Underwood, having completed his studies in fine arts, set up a company called Art Busters. Providentially, his fledgling company was invited to take part in the World Expo in Brisbane in 1988 and was extremely successful, so much so that they were invited back to subsequent world fairs, in Seoul, Seville and more, giving the company international exposure and opening the window to the world.

In the 1990s Art Busters bid for and was granted a major project with Seacon Square in Bangkok. John and family, when they came to Thailand, were won over by the warmth and culture of this nation and its people. So they stayed. In 2000 John moved his family to Phuket and founded Underwood Art Factory as a product design company, receiving many commissions to create artistic décor, furnishings and more for hotels and other establishments in Phuket, around Thailand, and even internationally, designing, among many other things, luxury five-star pre-fab hotel suites that are now in operation at Treehouse Villas Koh Yao Noi Luxury Resort and far-off Mauritius. Time and space fails me to tell you all that the Factory has done over the years and is still doing; that’s another story for another time.

What we are interested in at this time is the ongoing formation at UAF of a permanent performing arts hub for Phuket. Eight to 10 years ago, once the Factory was up and running and doing well, John built a bar, restaurant and stage in front of the factory, and hosted Collin Hill’s band, The Lost Legends, along with P. J. Stanley, who performed great music there weekly for a year and a half or more. As happens in Phuket, some of the musicians moved or moved on, and the gigs came to an end.

After that, the factory stage was used as an entertainment venue sporadically over the years for comedy, music, improvisation, concerts and more. Many of us have attended their comedy shows or music concerts in recent times, but when there was no show, the theatre continued to lie dormant, waiting to be brought to life. 

In June of 2019 Theatrix performed their very popular play, ‘The 39 Steps’, there, which led to the idea being born of doing more and bigger shows, of creating a regular theatre company to produce plays for adults and children, sketches, musical gigs, and more on a regular basis at the theatre in the now-open and -popular Grind Café. 

As of this writing, the Grind Café at Underwood Art Factory has been the venue for many great events helmed by the inimical and omnipresent Mango Yordbear. There have been wild variety evenings with Stefano, the often comic Italian opera singer; Jeffrey, the Filipino Elvis who also does Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra to perfection; Collin Hill, Amber Sparks, Veronica Barboza Rojas; Khun Mam’s fusion Thai dancers and more. 

In December, Theatrix and The Good Shepherd Phuket Town presented a very successful charity Christmas panto called Aladdin, and we have made the decision to make this a yearly event. There are Bohemian Markets on Sundays, complete with live music and great atmosphere, and more with more, much more, to come. 

Theatrix is now busy rehearsing the hilarious, madcap ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ for performance in May and June. We will keep you posted so you can be sure not to miss it. 

Having seen how much the children enjoyed our panto in December, we are now making plans to set up a children’s theatre troupe to regularly offer quality theatre to the children of Phuket.

And there’s one more exciting thing I have to tell you! To accommodate all these future plans, John and company are presently building a new bigger indoor stage on the property! This will make Underwood and the Grind Café a complete theatrical venue where performance classes are taught, variety evenings are prepared, and plays are mounted and performed both for adults and children in two different theatres. This is going to be exciting! Stay tuned!

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