New approach to Shakespeare

By Tahnee Hopman, Pic by Sanka Vidanagama

Colombo’s audience seems to have had a slight overdose of Shakespeare this month, but no one is complaining. What is perceived as the annual Shakespeare season ended on its usual high, but with an additional doze of a Shakespearean competition of another order.

For the first time in Sri Lanka, here was an Inter Schools’ Drama Competition with an unconventional touch - a competition which was also to be something of an exam, with highly qualified examiners from Trinity-Guildhall London. Considering that on the night of the performance, the judges’ decisions had already been made based on the events of the previous two days, the atmosphere was tinged with added nervousness. And just as its publicity promised, it was a true celebration of Shakespeare, with many unforgettable moments.

Alethea International School

Beginning the evening’s drama was St. Joseph’s College with a dramatization of Hamlet. It was a pleasant surprise to note that the Josephians had improved greatly within the week since they had performed last. Certain striking aspects such as the portrayals of Hamlet and Polonius were unchanged, but the level of interaction between the characters had improved and this contributed to the flow of the story and made theirs a far more engaging performance than before. The visual effects and choreography too were excellent; and although St. Joseph’s has made use of it previously, the hooded figures depicting spirits were a perfect fit for the drama and made for an extremely dramatic opening scene.

Asian Inter national School brought to life the story of Romeo and Juliet, beginning in a slightly tame, though unconventional manner. As a whole, the individual performances were good, with the characters of Juliet played by Insiya Jafferjee who won the Best Actress Award, Romeo and the nurse standing out. What was even more impressive though was the clever and somewhat unusual depiction of certain familiar, very often hacked scenes such as the ‘balcony scene’ of Act II. Without the use of a set, Romeo and Juliet stood, backs turned in conversation. Yet the dialogue was both engaging and convincing, and the emotion of the scene was brought out well. The relationship between Juliet and the nurse was highlighted well, and the cast of AIS also made good use of choreography - as seen in the masked ball and the swordfight.

The third drama that night was that of King Lear by Alethea International School. Most impressive was the interpretation given to the character of the protagonist. As opposed to the powerful figure we are used to seeing in King Lear, the character of King Lear in this excerpt cut a rather helpless, pathetic figure, probably experiencing the beginnings of dementia. It was an interesting interpretation, and executed well by the actor, Vibooshan Dyanaranjan) who won the Best Actor award. The drama was complemented by an excellent portrayal of Goneril who was extremely forceful, confident and convincing in her role.

Asian International School

British School, Colombo took the stage next with a powerful, contemporary dramatization of Macbeth. Once again, no set was used, but the absence of a set was not felt in the least for the acting from beginning to end was strong and consistent. It was evident that the cast had a clear understanding and feeling of the scope of the tragedy of Macbeth in his fall from grace. It was felt that this was one of the strongest performances of the night, combining excellent acting, visual effects and interesting interpretations such as that of the three witches.

It was one of those performances where acting was the main focus, with little emphasis given to gimmicks, and memorable for that. Considering this, it was rather surprising and for many in the audience to learn that British School emerged a lowly second runner up, having deserved something far better. Possibly, the fact that the performance exceeded the specified time limit was the cause for the unexpected result.

Tied in second place were St. Joseph’s College and Alethea International School, with Asian International School being judged the winners of the first ever Inter Schools’ Drama Competition organized by Alethea International School in Collaboration with the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). It was an enjoyable evening, and a pleasant change to witness a new approach to a Shakespeare Drama Competition, which we all hope will carve its own niche and become a tradition of the local drama scene.

Pix courtesy Cambridge International Examinations. The Sunday Times were the print media sponsors for the event.

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