It is doubtful that much has changed since that first All Island Interschool Shakespeare Drama Competition held 36 years ago.
While acting and directing styles might have changed drastically, watching 'Shakes 2008' held on September 19 and 21, made it clear that in essence, little has changed. The healthy competition was obvious; the heightened loyalty to schools, even more so. And when it came down to the results, the tension was, as usual, almost tangible.
Where the performances were concerned, a lot had changed in the ten days between the semi-finals and the finals.
Day one saw the girls' schools battling for the coveted trophy – three performing excerpts from Twelfth Night and one from Taming of the Shrew.
Ave Maria Convent got off to a shaky start, performing Twelfth Night and it was disappointing to see a slight decline in the overall performance, compared to their effort in the semi finals. The life of the play as seen in their first performance was lacking and the actresses did not seem to make the same connection with their characters as they did earlier. Malvolio pulled off a convincing performance, as did Feste, played by Finolla Outschoorn, who won the award for Best Actress, while the award for Best Outstation Actress was bagged by Roshanara Jayampathy.
On the other hand, Holy Cross College, also performing Twelfth Night, showed a noticeable and welcome change. Since the semi-finals, they had taken a great deal of trouble in improving sets, costumes, scene transition and the overall performance. It was refreshing to see far more life on stage and a sense of the actresses being in character throughout and also having some fun.
The third school to take the stage with Twelfth Night was St. Bridget's Convent, who easily delivered the best performance of the night. Opening with a scene that was superbly and professionally handled, they succeeded in grabbing the attention of the audience even before the lines were delivered. There was great interaction among the actresses and while no particular performance stood out, every performance was strong and consistent, with some individual performances – Olivia and Feste in particular, having improved drastically since the semi finals.
Visakha Vidyalaya, performing Taming of the Shrew, had changed some aspects of their performance and although their interpretation of the play was extremely unusual, it was executed convincingly. The acting showed progress, with Katherine in particular delivering a brilliant performance. The scene transitions too had improved tremendously since the semis. There were far less blackouts and the transition between scene I and scene II, which was barely noticeable, was nothing short of excellent.
Deservedly, St. Bridget's Convent walked away with the trophy, with Visakha Vidyalaya coming a very close second. Ave Maria Convent and Holy Cross College emerged 2nd and 3rd runners-up respectively.
With the boy's schools too, there were improvements with regard to previous performances, with some very convincing and forceful portrayals.
D.S. Senanayake College opened the show with a very strong, entertaining performance. The opening scene was great, with a lot of life, good use of the stage and set, and a lot of colour. Petruchio's was one performance that truly stood out. He was humorous without trying too hard and successfully carried the performance through. The editing of the script could have been better – the scene with the tutors and suitors could have easily been omitted and replaced with a more interesting one.
The performance by Royal College was, from beginning to end, the strongest of the night. Yasas Ratnayake who won the award for Best Actor, gave a stunning performance as King Lear and there was absolutely no sign of the 20-year-old boy who portrayed the character as he was old King Lear through and through. Here too there was good onstage chemistry between the characters – particularly between King Lear and the fool.
St. Joseph's College, performing Coriolanus, made good use of the stage and set, but at times, performed in excess, particularly in the slightly dramatic scenes. Coriolanus handled his role effectively, but the overall performance did not seem to have the desired impact on the audience.
The performance by Trinity College had scope to be handled better. The change of setting to a Mafia one was an interesting idea and there were some nice touches to the drama within this setting. The performance of Iago, by Isuru Gunaratne, who won the award for Best Outstation Actor, was impressive.
And the results – predictably, Royal College took the trophy, followed by D.S. Senanayake College, St. Joseph's College and Trinity College.
All in all it would be safe to say that this year was one of the few times in which the judging at the finals was satisfactory and, in contrast to last year, constructive criticisms and comments were given on all the performances.
Still for all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable Shakespeare season, and we all eagerly await the next, and congratulate the performers, directors and organisers on a job well done.