24th June 2001
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Under the moon, under the stars

A new venture between the Workshop Players and Hotel Dolphin Waikkal, takes Lion King to the great outdoors.
By Ruhanie Perera 
It was a cool evening, perfect for a night out. The entrances to the playing area were lit with blazing torches and the sounds of the sea provided the prelude. In the playing area, a cloth-covered lifeguard's look- out post made a very convincing 'Pride Rock' and the pool, glistening in the stage light, made a strikingly effective backdrop for the players. 

The stage, (or should I say lawn) was set. The Workshop Players' Lion King was about to begin. Sea? Pool? Lawn? No, I wasn't seeing things. This joint experiment by the Workshop Players and Club Hotel Dolphin, Waikkal sees Jerome de Silva's acclaimed production of the 'Lion King' taken down to the beach, giving audiences, both local and foreign, the show in the 'great outdoors'. 

Says the Dolphin's General Manager, Manilal Gunasekere, "The hotel bought over the costumes of the production from the Workshop, which solved costume storage problems for them and then invited the Workshop Players over to perform." Although the practice of having a theatrical performance as an evening's entertainment is incorporated into many a hotel's entertainment programme abroad, it has never been attempted here. 

The Dolphin Hotel is run on the club concept, says Mr. Gunasekere, which means, "It is up to the management to provide our guests with a fun and activity-filled holiday. The more activities there are for them to enjoy, the better." "Just about anyone can present an entertainment programme, but our aim was to give our guests something different." It was time for them to work the club concept in the most creative of ways. And voila! Poolside Lion King was born. 

"An internationally famous production is the last thing our guests expect here. Many haven't even seen the Lion King before so it's a thrilling experience for them and a lot of fun for the hotel staff as well. Especially for our animators who get the chance to take part," adds Mr. Gunasekere. 

With fortnightly performances during the season and monthly performances in the off-season, this experiment seems to have been a success for the hotel. Director Jerome de Silva together with around 15 Workshop Players comes over usually on a Saturday. The day before he calls the hotel and speaks to the animators about the programme and the cast he has planned. "That way they are all aware of what is happening," says Jerome who adds that having the disciplined animators who are very easy to work with on the team has been a great boon to the show. Their last performance was on May 26 and the next will be June 30. 

The programme, prepared by Jerome, is compiled to last just over an hour. No guest wants to sit through a three-hour programme so he chooses the most catchy songs and puts them in sequence. At the performance the original soundtrack is played and the performers sing to it. They don't go into dialogue at all, instead work the plot through the songs. Naturally all the key roles and everyone's favourite 'Circle of life', 'I just can't wait to be king' and 'Hakuna Matata' are retained, because that's what the people want to see. "This has been a wonderful exercise. A great training ground for the actors," says Jerome, adding that, "The atmosphere is just marvellous outside, made for Lion King. The trees, the stars and on a Poya night with the full moon, it's sheer magic." 

At the practice session in the morning, chaos reigns for the first few minutes with the 'who's playing what's' and Jerome's voice ringing out, "You're Rafiki, you're men, you." A hotel gardener, who's joined in, dances to his hearts content, having learnt the routine. Who knows he might get a standing ovation that night. 

"From the hotel there are about nine of us in today's performance," says A.D. Viraj Kumara, an animator on the hotel staff. He feels that by taking part and observing the way Jerome handles a performance they can learn a lot. That knowledge comes in handy since the animators take over the evening's entertainment sometimes. Says Viraj Kumara, " It's a lot of hard work, but a great learning experience." 

Juanita Beling, of the Workshop frantically slapping on foundation, on what she called her 'war-paint' when we caught up with her, felt that the experience would develop their versatility. "We can even do our own make-up now," she says with a laugh. 

"Moreover, here, you could be just about any character. I was playing Nala at the actual performances, but today I'm playing Rafiki. This way you become more aware of other people's roles." 

As the show progressed, the applause built up and comments like 'very impressive', 'very well done' were audible. 

It was obvious that Mother Nature was on call that night for her special effects; for as Nala left her devastated land, lightning flashed through the sky and when the grown -up Simba looked up at the sky, from where his father had promised he would look down on him, a solitary evening star gave him a reassuring twinkle. 

A brush with life-drawing

By Alfreda De Silva
An exhibition of paintings by the well-known artist and art teacher, Nadine David, will be on view at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery from June 28 to July 3, from 10.00 a.m to 7.00 pm. each day. 

The 65 exhibits consist of oil paintings, water colours and sketches. 

Nadine has never ceased to paint, since she first enjoyed the freedom of expression with paints and forms in Cora Abraham's Melbourne Art Classes, when she was six. This was also a time for observing the wonders of the world around her, in the company of other children. 

Exposure to the styles of European classicists through travel and study with her teacher, Gill Smith in London, culminated in four exciting and illuminating years, later extended, with the eminent artist and teacher, David Paynter. 

As the exhibits display, one of the strengths of her work comes from her in-depth study and practice of life-drawing. A deep interest in the artistic links that are common to many cultures, the rhythm and movement of dance, both western and eastern and a love of children and nature have added distinction to her work. 

They have given her incentives for fulfilling artistic expression and led her to explore and fully exploit them. 

Bharatha Natyam, Kathak, Odissi and Sinhala dance forms have so fascinated her that she has done comprehensive research on these. 

She sees strong affinities between the Odissi dances of Orissa and their Sinhala counterparts. This is true not only in the patterns and movement of the dances but also in the dancers' attire. 

She greatly admires the lissome grace of the famous Odissi dancer, Sonal Mansingh and pays her tribute in a composite of her in various drapes and poses. 

Nadine's largest canvas at the exhibition is in oils. It is 7 3/4 feet by 3 3/4 feet and delineates graphic details of the typical Sri Lankan faces of male and female dancers. The textures of their garments are visible in their flowing draperies, and those of the drummers. 

Their exotic, chunky, silver ornaments for waist, ears, arms, ankles and feet feature motifs of seeds, flowers and fruit common to both India and Sri Lanka. 

Some of Nadine's canvases draw the attention of the viewer to the plight of children with whom she has a strong affinity. She portrays them displaced by war, negligence and poverty. Refugee children, street children and children behind wire barricades. Their eyes arrest the gaze of the viewer and stir the conscience with their utter hopelessness. The older street children protect the younger ones. 

'Sweet Delight' and 'Endless Night', juxtaposed with each other show the joy of motherhood and childhood fulfilled and the contrasting horror of the relationship destroyed. 

The pictures owe their titles to two lines from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence. 

"Some are born to deep delight,

Some are born to endless night." 

Living in a chosen environment of woods and waterways, Nadine has drawn inspiration for her exuberant landscapes from the Talangama Wewa, an unspoilt paradise not far from her home. 

I was once a griffin

By Richard Boyle 
The Anglo-Indian word griffin has intrigued me for some years now, especially since the time an editor I worked with bestowed it as a name on his son. I must confess straightaway that my interest in the word is largely due to the fact that I was once a griffin, and underwent the often disconcerting but thankfully transitory state of griffinhood. It is during the initiatory experience of griffinhood that the griffin discovers, for instance, that hoppers are not some kind of unwelcome leaping creature but a desirable item of food. 

Probably the meaning of griffin or griff - hence griffinhood, griffinage, griffinish, griffinship, and griffish - is becoming clear. It is defined in the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as, "A European newly arrived in India, and unaccustomed to Indian ways and peculiarities; a novice, newcomer, greenhorn." A similar definition, "One newly arrived in India, and unaccustomed to Indian ways and peculiarities; a Johnny Newcome," is carried in the glossary Hobson-Jobson. 

The OED states that griffin is "of uncertain origin," and the compilers of Hobson-Jobson admit, "the origin of the phrase is unknown to us." Nevertheless they go on to speculate: "There was an Admiral Griffin who commanded in the Indian seas from November 1746 to June 1748, and was not very fortunate. Had his name to do with the origin of the term?" 

A more plausible explanation was advanced by W. W. Skeat, the reputed philologist and author of the influential Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (London, 1882), published during the early years of the OED project. His theory, which is quoted by the editor of the second edition of Hobson-Jobson, reasons that griffin was an early name for a Welshman, apparently a corruption of griffith. Skeat believed that the word was used abroad to designate a greenhorn Welshman, and thus acquired its Anglo-Indian sense.

According to the OED, the first written use of the word was in 1793: "Wilks . . . will lend you every assistance in forwarding these matters, in which you must, I presume, be a perfect griffin." Hobson-Jobson, on the other hand, gives the 1794 reference, "I am little better than an unfledged griffin, according to the fashionable phrase here." 

Other early references to the word given in Hobson-Jobson include two dated 1807, "It seems really strange to a griffin - the cant word for a European just arrived," and, "At the Inn I was tormented to death by the impertinent persevering of the black people; for every one is a beggar, as long as you are reckoned a griffin, or a new-comer." 

The OED has a different reference from the year 1807, which reads, "Every arrival from Europe . . . as soon as he touches terra-firma is a griffin." In addition there is the following dated 1816: "Young men, immediately on their arrival in India, are termed griffins, and retain this honour until they are twelve months in the country." Both Hobson-Jobson and the OED give the 1836 reference, "I often tire myself rather than wait for their dawdling; but Mrs Staunton laughs at me and calls me a Griffin and says I must learn to have patience and save my strength." 

In the OED, griffinage is supported by a reference dated 1829, "Champagne tiffin parties, and other first claims on the griffinage of a civilian;" griffinhood by one dated 1854, "I was not quite released from the swaddling bonds of my griffin-hood;" and griffinship by one dated 1816, "The griffinship expired, he's sent on duty from his regiment." Lastly, griffish is supported in both the dictionary and the glossary by an 1836 reference, "He was living with bad men, and saw that they thought him no better than themselves, but only more griffish."

All the above are references from Indian literature. Griffin, though, is common in nineteenth century English literature pertaining to Ceylon. While the word seems to have been first used at Madras, it eventually percolated to the island, as the compilers of Hobson-Jobson state. However in selecting the illustrative quotations for their entry they overlooked all the references to griffin in Ceylon literature. Likewise the OED carries none of them. 

No less than three such quotations - the earliest I know of - can be found in J. W. Bennett's Ceylon and its Capabilities (London, 1843). The first cautions newcomers regarding the duplicity of itinerant jewellery sellers: "Strangers landing at Trincomalee, as casual visitors, are apt to be misled by the showy appearances of the jewellery offered by itinerant vendors, who crowd together at the landing place, upon the first signal of a ship standing into the harbour, to take advantage of Griffin Gentleman." Bennett appends a footnote, "Griffin, an East Indian term, synonymous with the West Indian, Johnny Newcome."

The second reference is contained in a passage in which he debunks the widely circulated story regarding a cinnamon scented breeze off the west coast of the island. "The surgeon having rubbed a little oil of cinnamon upon the weather hammock nettings," he writes, "the griffins, who formed a majority of the passengers and who generally assembled on the poop just before the dinner hour, were so convinced of the reality of the cinnamon breeze, that one of them actually published an account of it."

Bennett's third reference concerns that perennial pest the mosquito and its preference for the sanguine fluid of newcomers: "The tiny but most troublesome Mosquito (Culex molestus) draws all the blood it can, particularly from the Griffin."

A further three references can be found in William Knighton's quasi-fictional Forest Life in Ceylon (London, 1854). The first echoes Bennett's sentiments regarding itinerant vendors: "There were, besides, several Moors, more man-like in their habiliments and character, and infinitely more dangerous to the purse of the newly-arrived European, or griffin, as he is elegantly styled." 

The second reference, to the fine curries cooked in Ceylon, includes another Anglo-Indian word of a similar nature - quyhy, the qui-hy of the OED: "There is no place where better curries are made than in Ceylon, and this I say, not as a griffin just arrived from England, but as an experienced quyhy - one who knows Ceylon, and who has lived both in Madras and Calcutta."

Knighton's third reference is contained in an anecdote about a particularly gullible new arrival duped into believing that breadfruit was actually bread that grew on trees: "It was evident that poor Sparks had to pay the usual penalty of griffin-hood, in being deceived to the utmost extent that the knowing ones could accomplish."

Edward Sullivan provides two references employing the form griff in The Bungalow and the Tent or, A Visit to Ceylon (London, 1854). Once again the first alludes to the deceptions practised by jewellery sellers: "Those purchased by the griffs and greenhorns, are almost invariably good Birmingham glass, the manufacture of which is now perfect." 

The second reference concerns the jaded sense of familiarity that distinguishes the more experienced visitor from the newcomer: "After a few weeks' camping out in the East, the novelty and beauty of the different groupings, brilliant colouring, and peculiar character of Indian scenery, fail to attract any particular attention, but to a griff fresh from England, they cannot but at first appear highly interesting and picturesque."

Lastly I present several verses from the poem "The Shuck Estate," which is to be found in Vereker M. Hamilton and Stewart M. Fasson's Scenes in Ceylon (London, 1880). Again it concerns the exploitation of the griffin, although this time at the hands of one of his own race. 

In order to revive the family's flagging fortunes, young Adolphus is given money by his father to buy a plantation in Ceylon. When he arrives at Colombo he has problems with the Customs, and once outside the harbour, carelessly knocks into a gentlemen sending him flying into the gutter:

"The gentleman picked himself up in a rage
But abated it soon - Perhaps he guessed,
Adolphus to be, from his mien and his age,
Both green, and with coin to invest!
"So bowing profoundly, and smiling his best,
Arm in arm, as he hoped with a griffin,
He walked to the club, where Adolphus he pressed,
To sit down and partake of some tiffin."
The gentleman has a shuck (neglected) estate he wishes to dispose of, and Adolphus is the perfect sucker . . .

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