All’s well that ends well

Namali Premawadhana reports on a night filled with drama, humour and some notable performances.

The Inter-School Shakespeare Drama competition needs no introduction. The packed halls, the selling-out of tickets within two days of issue and the quality of productions are proof enough of its popularity.
The 34th semi-finals held over two days saw twenty participant schools judged by Graham Hatch, Anila Dias-Bandaranaike and Dilkushi Wettewa, an unusual and what the organizers hoped was a ‘balanced’ panel of judges. The Judges for the finals held at the Bishop’s College Auditorium included Iranganie Serasinghe and Vivimarie Vander Poorten who need no introduction, and Andrew Fowler-Watt, Principal of the British School, Colombo who has had extensive experience in stage direction as well.

Winners Maris Stella College
S. Thomas’ College
Ladies College
Wesley College
Hillwood College

The first night of the finals opened with Ave Maria Convent. The usual mimed opening was modified to accommodate evocative dance moves, a fresh step which was repeated at the end with a significant change in the actors, created a strong sense of familiarity with the audience. The modern theme they chose to use worked well especially with the mobs at court, except in a slightly girlish feel pervasive throughout the performance. Niroshi Antoinette Perera, winner of both the Best Actress and Best Outstation Actress awards for what the judges called an “astonishingly fine” performance was notably not a ‘girl’ in her portrayal of Shylock. Her character was consistent, as well as that of the judge played by Sherika Fernando. Roshenara Jayanpathy, playing Portia in the court-room scene delivered her lines well and effectively, despite slight lapses in characterisation.

The production as a whole was well done, with symbolic references through the use of the star of David and crosses worn by each character.Newstead Girls’ College had a refreshingly different outlook in their performance of The Merchant of Venice which the judges referred to as “fascinating” and for which they took home the winning Girls’ School trophy. Despite opening with the usual mime, and sticking to period-costumes, Newstead College presented a cleverly selected extract of the play which focused on Shylock (played feelingly, consistently and with apparent understanding of the character by Leyanvi Mirando) portraying him as a balanced character, difficult to judge and not stereotypically ‘wicked’.

The fact that the actress tended to force her voice once in a while did not hinder the audience from relating to and feeling compassion for Shylock. The stage was colourful, and the entrances and exits of the actresses handled with novelty at the hands of black and white silent ‘bearers’. Kishali Mirando from this production took home the awards for Best Supporting Actress as well as Best Supporting Actress (Outstation) for her portrayal of Bassanio.

The Hillwood College production of Macbeth used mimes to communicate key scenes and was intense throughout. Kushlani Karunaratne portrayed Lady Macbeth with a glitter in her eyes reminiscent of Hecate’s glance, but with a certain mechanical feel which nonetheless added to the coldness and what the judges called a “fragility” of her character. Macbeth’s, “out, out brief candle” soliloquy was delivered with evocative sensitivity by Himansa Herath in a role the judges acknowledged as a very difficult role for a female actresses to play. An apparent shifting of feet in the scene of Macbeth’s murder had the tendency to take away from the dramatic intensity, but did not compromise the production’s power to evocate.

Ladies College was widely different from Hillwood College in its portrayal of the three hags as flighty, giggly Japanese fairy-like creatures. Both were entertaining, but neither was favoured by the judges, Hillwood seen as “traditional” and Ladies as not quite “right”. Ladies College cleverly juxtaposed several short scenes onto each other in order to quicken the pace of the play, yet seemed to lose out on the part of the actresses who did not have time to familiarise the audience with their character. Meara Algama and Tasmin Anthonisz nevertheless completely engrossed and involved the audience in their foils through their subtle, effective and mature portrayals of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectively.

Trinity College Winners - Newstead College
Best actress and Best Actress Outstation - Niroshi Antoinette Pereira Best Actor and Best Actor Outstation-Daminda Wijayaratne, Mirantha Jayathilaka

Meara achieved a fresh, brilliant and moving performance of the after-murder scene which received special commendation from the judges. Emasha Silva played the Nurse most sweetly and feelingly, while Hecate, a character rarely seen on this stage was brilliantly disdainful, proud and mischievous. The production used a relatively large set, and was completely Japanese in its utilisation of white cloth screens, shadow play and gongs. The Ladies College opening depicted the black, grey and white parts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s personalities, interacting with each other in a symbolic dance – a picturesque scene, but as the judges pointed out was ineffective as it did not introduce the play to the audience.

The mimed murder of the white and grey personalities served as a clever narrative which tied the whole production into a neat whole.

Maris Stella opened the boys’ final night, with their irresistibly slick and fast-moving production of A Comedy of Errors. The stage was continually bursting with action, and the audience with laughter as the claimants of the trophy for the winning Boy’s School delivered half an hour of pure entertainment. The hilarity of the play although singularly entertaining, tended to lean on the slapstick,while the constant activity onstage was a bit distracting rather than complemented the actors’ delivery. The production used double-actors in the roles of the two Dromios and the two Antipholuses, an inventive and challenging move, which saw Daminda Wijayaratne and Mirantha Jayathilaka take home the awards for Best Actor and Best Outstation Actor together. Their characterisation was quick, slick and funny, complemented by consistent and strong performances remarked upon by the judges as a “good range of acting” by the whole cast which daringly included very young actors in major roles.

S. Thomas’ College had the audience torn between themselves and Maris Stella College. Both productions were immensely entertaining, well directed and convincingly delivered. St. Thomas’ opened with Egeon (played with suitable reserve by Shelan De Livera) narrating his tale to theaudience (not the Duke), while a pretty mime brought his words to life in the background. This was followed by a suave setting of an 80’s street theme, complete with bicycles, beggars anda saxophonist; a “clever scene” complimented by the judges as “visually, musically... really lovely.” The action onstage was again slightly distracting, but the presentation as a whole was intelligent, and the actors more sensitive to and subtle in their portrayals. Adam Kenny and Rahantha Abayakoon were especially connective in their roles as Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus and received special commendation from the judges.

The Tempest produced by Trinity College had a relieving opening devoid of mimes and loud music. Channaka Nanayakkara delivered a powerful rendition of Prospero, especially with his voice which was mellifluous and malicious as occasion found fit. Miranda was most convincingly and as the judges claimed “naturally” portrayed by Bandhuka Premawardhana who took home both the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actor Outstation awards. Sahan Wijewardena portrayed a yaksha Taliban with grand yet horrific accents, a performance which received commendation from the judges and as they pointed out did not deserve the slighting response it received from the audience. While the strength of the first two performances was their humour, the Trinity College production failed to convey the comedy in The Tempest to its audience. The performance was nevertheless refreshing and unique especially in its use of the original songs from Shakespeare’s script and live music.

In Wesley College’s production of The Merchant of Venice Ishanka Fernando stood out as a convincing actor in his portrayal of Shylock as a torn and shaken man. Salerio was amusing and at the same time repulsively portrayed by Dhanish Musafer as a gun-wielding, drug-abusing (and EGB-drinking!) gangster- psychopath. The Wesley College production displayed clever use of technical tools such as props and lighting, which though sometimes mistimed and sometimes spot-on, was not seen much in any of the other Boys’ productions.

The production catered very well to its audience. The shaving of Jessica’s hair at her conversion to Christianity cleverly completed the symbolic significance of the baldheads. The avant-garde night-club set the alternate green and red screen-lighting, the alternative-techno music and the tank-top clad gangster Christians were collectively super-effective in bringing Shakespeare into the audience’s reality.
Both sessions were packed with drama, humour and imaginative communication and one thing is for certain – each and every person in the audience enjoyed the evenings entertainment!

Finalists at a glance

Boys’ Category Awards

Winners – Maris Stella College, Negombo

Runners’ Up – S. Thomas’ College, Colombo

Second Runners’ Up – Wesley College, Colombo

Third Runners’ Up – Trinity College, Kandy

Best Actor and Best Actor Outstation – Daminda Wijayaratne, Mirantha Jayathilaka (Maris Stella College)

Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actor Outstation – Bandhuka Premawardhana (Trinity College)

Girls’ Category Awards

Winners – Newstead College, Negombo

Runners’ Up – Ladies College, Colombo

Second Runners’ Up – Ave Maria Convent, Negombo

Third Runners’ Up – Hillwood College, Kandy

Best Actress and Best Actress Outstation – Niroshi Antoinette Pereira (Ave Maria Convent)

Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actress Outstation– Kisali Mirando (Newstead College)

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