After all the hype usually associated with The Interschool Shakespeare Drama Competition, it finally happened, though with not many major shocks or surprises.
Where the girls schools were concerned, the results of the semi finals dealt more with who should be eliminated rather than which four schools would be good enough to make the coveted finals. With the number of participating girls schools depleting from six to five, the competition comprised three schools, performing excerpts from Twelfth Night (St. Bridget's Convent, Holy Cross Gampaha and Ave Maria Convent Negombo), The Taming of the Shrew performed by Visakha Vidyalaya and King Lear by Hillwood College, Kandy.
First up was Visakha Vidyalaya, opening with a scene reminiscent of the Witches of Macbeth chanting around a bubbling cauldron. It was a little difficult to imagine why Katherine was played by three girls. Was this to depict different moods or characteristics? Possibly. Either way, it was confusing, and seemingly quite meaningless. Apart from this, Visakha Vidyalaya did a good job, with convincing and consistent performances by all the actresses. Unfortunately for them, problems with the sounds being too loud, and the scene transitions being far from slick, took away from the performance a little, but this was only a minor problem.
Performance number two was Twelfth Night, by St. Bridget's Convent. As in the previous performance, the sounds were something of a hindrance, but those technical problems were ironed out consequently. Once again, all the actresses played their parts well, with good interaction. The performance could have been altered in one scene in which the entrance of Sir Andrew distracted the audience from what was taking place on apron stage.
King Lear was up next, performed by Hillwood College. At first, on hearing the opening music and glancing at the costumes, it was assumed that the drama was, in fact, Anthony and Cleopatra, but we were proved wrong once the dialogue began. Performances which stood out here were those of King Lear and Goneril, who gave off compelling performances which set them apart from the rest of the cast. A few problems with scene transitions and two unnecessary dance scenes are aspects that jeopardized Hillwood's performance.
Holy Cross Gampaha took the stage next, with another enactment of Twelfth Night. They opened with the storm and shipwreck scene which was well handled. However the dancers used to depict the sea carried on dancing while the opening scene took place, and this was something of a distraction. Apart from one major hiccup with a large backdrop, the scene transition was done well. The actresses needed to be more comfortable on stage though, and the end was disappointing.
Last of all was Ave Maria Convent with yet another excerpt from Twelfth Night. The confidence of the cast came through a great deal, with engaging performances by Feste and Lady Olivia. However the execution of the dialogue could have been a little less dragged out – this made the play a tad monotonous in places. Still for all the performance was impressive, an interesting and entertaining end to the performances by the girls schools.
And now for the whole point of the epistle – the results. On September 19, Ave Maria Convent, Holy Cross Gampaha, St. Bridget's Convent and Visakha Vidyalaya will compete for this year's award.
With a few exceptions, the boy's schools were in general, disappointing.
Opening for the outstation schools was Kingswood with a performance from Anthony and Cleopatra. The audience was, to say the least, slightly confused as to why Anthony delivered his lines off stage for a significant part of the production, while the remainder of the cast simply mimed his presence.
The next noteworthy performance of the outstation schools was that of Trinity College, performing an excerpt from Othello. The acting was commendable, as was the ending of the performance, but certain parts in between were dragged out too much, which, obviously made it a little monotonous.
The Colombo schools which followed had taken a noticeable amount of trouble over their sets, effects and costumes. Overall, it would be safe to say that the performers from these schools communicated far more confidence in their acting and the portrayal of characters.
The first of the Colombo schools was St. Peter’s College. Also performing Othello, the Peterites, like the Trinitians, set their performance in contemporary context. In the case of St. Peter’s, the contemporary Sri Lankan twist was executed very successfully, and the interaction between the actors came through very well.
Royal College, with its enacting of King Lear, did a very good job as a whole, though the performance dragged a little towards the end. King Lear gave off a compelling and emotional performance which was well supported by the court jester.
The other strong performance was by Wesley College with Othello, where the two Wesleyites playing Othello and Desdemona carried off their roles with ease, confidence and good onstage chemistry.
There were other commendable aspects of each performance, such as the use of the stage, sets, and effective opening and ending scenes (Ananda College and St. Benedict's College). However, in most cases, it was felt that these aspects should have been followed through on better by the individual casts.
Due to contraints regarding our deadline, we regret to have missed the performances by St. Joseph’s College and D.S. Senanayake College, and so are unable to comment on them.
And the verdict? Trinity College, St. Joseph’s College, Royal College and D.S. Senanayake College made it to the grand finals.
And there we have it; the end of the first half of the Shakespeare season. Many good performances were disrupted by the usual hoots, snide remarks, stage whispers and cat calls. Considering that these came from fellow actors up in the balcony, it was sad to see that actors who knew the challenges of playing to such an audience, could so deliberately attempt to ruin other performances.
Comments by the judges would have been welcome, had they actually been constructive to the actors, rather than a general overview of the day's proceedings.
With reference to the competition in the girls and the boys categories, the Final competition lies between a few of the lucky four on both sides, coming up on September 19 and 20.