Ever heard of a fun take on the Dracula story? If not, ‘Dracula’, a production of the Kids@Play theatre group this April, is a must-see. A host of amusing characters bring laughter and light to the usual macabre plot. Add in some song and dance sequels and what emerges is a complete contrast to the common Dracula narrations.
Count Dracula is eternally in love with Meena, who is in this life a fashionable and very up-to-date London girl, who is in love with an English lawyer. The jealous count planning to win Meena back invites them to the castle on the pretext of wanting the lawyer’s help to sell it. Aided and abetted by his three beautiful apprentices, Dracula plans to get rid of the young lawyer and win back Meena’s heart.
The play titled ‘Dracula’ is dramatized by youngsters from the ages of 12 to 16 years and directed by the founder of Kids@Play, Professor Neluka Silva, well-known author and academic. Currently head of the Department of English at the University of Colombo, Neluka’s work with the children focuses on them discovering themselves and their own talent.
Although the play is an adaptation from the novel ‘Dracula’ by Irish author Bram Stoker, the plot has been changed considerably to be a very hip and modern take on the conventional Dracula story. It is a new perspective through the eyes of today’s children, that the audience will relate to. The language and plot can be understood by anyone and everyone.
Neluka believes in letting her cast decide the main concept behind the production and dialogue. “This way it doesn’t seem forced. It’s very natural and unstrained. Sometimes they add their own bits and pieces to the lines while delivering them.” Unusually for such young talent the kids seem well trained in voice projection and on stage characterization. During the market scene with the peasants, they are told to act out the hustle and bustle of a market. What is striking is the fact that they create their own actions and merge that into the characters.
Fifteen-year-old Viren Ratwatte who takes the part of the protagonist, Count Dracula, is the only character who plays a more serious and sombre character. “Even my attire is very formal and old fashioned,” he says. Viren explains the importance to him of playing the lead role and being a part of the play. “It’s a very big chance. At the start of the year we came up with a basic plot for the play and went on from there. Playing Dracula is exciting. He is serious compared to most of the other characters but he keeps his cool. Because most of us know each other and have acted for so long together the rehearsals are fun and it’s really easy to work with everyone. I learnt quite a lot from being with the group. First when I started acting [it] was a bit difficult and then after a while it came pretty naturally. I enjoy it a lot.”
Yanika Amarasekera is the initiator of the concept and the plot. The sixteen-year-old speaks of the start ‘Dracula’ took. “We were trying to come up with a story around Halloween and the Dracula story popped up as a joke. Then I suggested a love story and everyone sort of agreed. I am such a romantic so I loved the idea from the start.” Yanika also says the group decided to change the original language of Dracula to a more current dialogue because the idea was to take a modern approach to the play.
Discussing her role as Meena and the musical additions to ‘Dracula’, she says, “The plot revolves around Meena, mostly because Dracula and Harker [the lawyer] fight over her. This Meena is playful but innocent. But you know how girls in love are. She has her moments. The music is mostly popular music of today. We have some techno, hip-hop and songs from artists like the Black Eyed Peas”
Harker, the lawyer from London, is played by Avin Gunawardene. “Harker is a very carefree laid-back guy. It was really easy to get into that role. I was reminded of myself.”
Avin also stresses on the fact that there is no violence in the play - that even Harker is not murdered by Dracula. “He is just locked up.”
The rest of the cast includes: the three beautiful apprentices of Dracula – Sahetra, Mehr and Shakthi, the housekeeper – Shamindri, the Butler – Rukmal, the mental patients – Mehr, Anuke and Harsh, Meena’s best friend, Lucy – Nimaya, Lucy’s mother – Tashi, Van Helsing – Vandev, the Doctor – Dwanee and the Narrator – Dilshike
The characters are not alien projections rehearsed by the cast. Unlike the professional actors who ‘get into character’ the kids add a part of their character into the role. “The fun surface holds a lot of depth and they are aware of it,” explains Neluka. “The kids are so comfortable playing their individual roles, that it is very convincing to the audience.”
Neluka was greatly appreciative of “the extremely talented choreographer, Natalya Guneratne, Andrew Fowler- Watt, the principal of the British School, Ruhanie Perera for all her help and for coming in during rehearsals and giving so much confidence to the children and also Kyle Lawrence of the British School for his help with the lighting and sounds.”
Asked how she manages this exuberant group, Neluka says she finds it exciting. “They are a lively, talented and creative bunch. It’s also a lot of work and not easy as you can see they have tons of energy. But they are very committed and I love working with them.”
“Dracula” will be performed at the British School Auditorium on April 8 and 9 from 7.30pm onwards. For tickets please call 0777 571595 or 0777 313773. The proceeds of the play will be donated to a day care centre for the severely physically and mentally handicapped.