A Siamese theatrical group circa 1900
Lakhon nai (Thai: ละครใน) is a performing art originating in the royal court of Thailand (formerly Siam). It features a slow choreography accompanied by a piphat ensemble enacted with epic poems such as that of Inao (Panji) and Unarut (Aniruddha). A variation of this genre with male performers is called lakhon nai phu chai (ละครในผู้ชาย).
Lakhon nai is believed to be a contraction of lakhon nang nai (ละครนางใน), or 'theatre of the women of the palace.' It was also known as lakhon khang nai (ละครข้างใน, lit., theatre of the inner court) and lakhon nai phra ratchathan (ละครในพระราชฐาน, lit., theatre of [belonging to] the King).
According to James R. Brandon, lakhon nai stems from the court dance tradition of Cambodia of the 15th century; it later adapted dramatic aspects from lakhon nok (a fork of lakhon chatri) during the 1750s. Lakhon nai itself would later become the main influence on the classical court dance (Royal Ballet of Cambodia) in Cambodia during the 19th century. Lakhon nai came to be in its present form during the 18th century when the story of Inao became an important part of the repertoire.
- Brandon, James R. (1967). Theatre in Southeast Asia. Harvard University Press