Civil Society News
The play staged by Sri Lanka's Theatre Plus troupe, Colombo, Colombo: the story of your coffin was a blend of tragedy, comedy and foot-tapping music. There were eight actors, six men and two women, who played guitar, sang, danced and acted.
It couldn't have been easy to multi-task on stage like this but the actors went through their performance with ease, music, dance and acting perfectly synchronised.
The play was avante garde, experimental. Instead of a linear story, there were four separate episodes which happen in four different locations in Colombo.
“The play is linked by a theme, the characters and the similarity of situations,” explains Indika Ferdinando, director, sitting in the darkened auditorium, looking a little anxious as his troupe readies for the evening's performance.
The choice of a disjointed script was deliberate, says Ferdinando, a lecturer at the College of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo. “I wanted to move away from Aristotle's theory, a kind of formula which has been superimposed on the history of theatre. It says one single story with start, development, climax and denouement is required for theatre. That's a reflection of patriarchal thinking,” he says dismissively.
The storyline works for the play is passionate, energetic and visually appealing. The music and lyrics too were catchy.
“I try to explore magic in theatre,” says Ferdinando. “Anything is possible on stage. I don't like dialogue plays. People come to theatre to see their lives as engaging, magical. The play is reflective of women's aspirations. But it is for the audience to interpret. I'm not preaching.”
In the first episode, Ajantha waits for his girlfriend, Vyanga, at a lover's park. But they can't find a bench to sit on. Characters like an old man with a romantic book and another with a wreath drift through. There is a struggle to get the bench and the episode ends with Vyanga noting a newspaper clipping announcing her death and Ajantha's.
In the second episode, it is Vyanga and Kumara's first anniversary. As they go to see a movie, Vyanga spots a bomb in the subway. She tells Kumara he could earn a reward by alerting the police and realise his dream of being a success. But Kumara leaves, dejected. She tries to alert people but nobody takes her seriously.
In the third episode, it is Vyanga and Rohan's first anniversary and they are catching the last bus home. In the last episode two old men wait for the arrival of the corpse of a young woman – Vyanga herself.
Vyanga, the shadow of death and the old man are a constant in all episodes. Anusuya Subasinghe, who plays Vyanga, handles four different characters in the four episodes with ease. It hasn't been easy though, says young Anusuya who learnt acting in New Zealand, to play different characters in a single play. “The rehearsals helped. I had to learn guitar too.”
Saumya Liyanage, the lead actor, who plays the old man and also narrates the story, is a well known star in Sri Lanka with a considerable fan following. He has powerful stage presence, a certain body language, and you can see he is an experienced actor.
Ferdinando gives centre stage to his actors. He believes it is the actor, his or her voice, physique, presence, which make or mar a performance. In this play Ferdinando picked young actors and paired them with a seasoned actor like Saumya Liyanage.
Colombo, Colombo, Ferdinando's first play, premiered in July 2009. It caused a stir for the style was new, the play captivatingly young with some attributes of box office cinema.