Night of many stars at Shakespeare finale

By Hansini Munasinghe

The curtains closed on the grand finale of the Inter-School Shakespeare Drama Competition once again, ending the much-celebrated annual competition of young talent and literary excellence with an unforgettable two-night performance of Sri Lanka’s best, and bringing tears, of both joy and sorrow, to the eyes of many.

Girls’ High School, Kandy, stole the show on the first night of the finals with their performance of the Taming of the Shrew, winning not only the title of the Best Outstation School but also the prestigious Overall Championship of the Girls’ Category, the Rtn. PP Harold Pieris Memorial Challenge Trophy.
Their rendition of the play combined the humour of slap-stick with a traditional Sinhalese village theme to create an engaging and well-rounded performance. Kumeri Bandara and Dakshika Wijesekara played the clash between Petruchio and Katherine wonderfully, trapping the audience in laughter throughout, and winning them the awards for the best actress and best supporting actress respectively, in both out-station and all-island categories.

S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, emerged as the champions in the Boys’ category on the second night, winning the Shakespeare Challenge Trophy. Their slapstick of Taming of the Shrew was an entertaining performance that achieved humour without the sacrifice of the value and depth of Shakespeare’s script. Through their creative use of the stage and costumes, they engaged two eras of history into the performance, effectively portraying the ‘play within a play’ nature of the Taming of the Shrew, an attempt that was commended by the judges.

Their props and sets, a screen and a few boxes, were the simplest of the entire competition, yet they were used creatively throughout the enactment. It proves that a performance “can be strong visually while remaining simple and not overly dramatic”, said Richard Danzinger speaking on behalf of the judges. Actors on stage, from the smallest characters to the lead roles, seemed to enjoy performing, he added. Newstead Girls’ School, Negombo, became runners up in both Outstation and All-island categories for their dramatic performance of ‘Measure for Measure’.

A dynamic opening scene with violin music of Dougie MacLean’s ‘The Gael’ in the background captured the audience from the very beginning of the play. The judges praised the Newstead team for their creative editing of the script, describing ‘Measure for Measure’, one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’, as more of a discussion of morality than a “story”. Coriolanus, which won D S Senanayake College the second place in the boys’ category, was one of the most emotionally-engaging performances of this year’s competition. The fight in the opening scene that kept the audience at edge of their seats showed a strong resemblance to the TV series Spartacus, through the use of creative choreography and “slow-motion” effects.

Abdul Baasith, who was awarded as the Best Actor for his role as Coriolanus, played this complex character with near-perfection, portraying him as “very human” and “not as a blood-thirsty monster” as is often the case. The judges also appreciated their use of props and utilisation vertical space. “Coriolanus is a very difficult play… They met a huge challenge and we are very impressed”, Danzinger said on behalf of the judges. The end of the play was equally powerful, with natural thunder striking outside the auditorium during Coriolanus’ last monologue onstage.

St. Bridget’s Convent came in third in the Girls’ category for their performance of Othello. Through a more traditional approach they effectively presented the two-sided nature of Iago and the downfall of Othello The strong characters of Othello and Iago were well complemented by Desdemona’s fragility.
The third place in the Boys’ category was won by Ananda College for their version of ‘Taming of the Shrew’, also set in a traditional Sinhalese village. They had creatively adopted many aspects of this theme into the play including props, a poruwa and a dandu-kanda, traditional music and even comical Sri Lankan accents.

Hillwood College, Kandy, who also recreated the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ in a traditional Sinhalese village setting became third runners up in the Girls’ category. The third runners up in the boys’ category, St. Benedict’s experimental rendition of Othello also used an alternative setting, transplanting the story into the ranks of a modern military. The play was marked by a militaristic harshness created by the soldiers, clad in camouflage uniforms with ‘dog tags’ around their necks, who presented the script in an almost aggressive tone throughout. They also portrayed the lead roles, including those of Othello and Iago, through multiple actors, an experimental attempt the judges described as “ambitious” yet somewhat “confusing”. This year’s competition saw eight out of 31 schools being chosen for the finals by Kaushika Premarathne, Jehan Aloysius and Graham Hatch after three days of fierce competitions at the Semi Finals.

The panel of judges at the finals consisted - Dinali Fernando, a University Lecturer of English, Ranmali Mirchandi, the Arts Manager at the British Council and Richard Danzinger, the Country Manager of the International Organisation for Migration, a theatre director and a former member of the Nucleus Theatre in the USA. “We were impressed by the quality of the performances,” said Danzinger on behalf of the judges. Speaking to the Sunday Times, the Chairman of the Rotary Club of Colombo North, Sriyantha Senaratna, saidhis year saw the largest number of competing schools in the history of the competition. He also added that they no longer see the need for a special outstation category. Outstation schools have advanced and can “fly on their own now,” he said.

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