Mirror Magazine
22nd April 2001
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A song for the children

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Srimathie Perera of the Hygiena Beauty Shop who has many years experience in dressing brides, presented model Sharon Reimers in this eye-chaching bridal at the bridal show organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Hairdressers and Beauticians at the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Centre last month. The saree, bouquet and bride's hairstyle were done by Srimathie while the jewellery was provided by stone 'N' string.

Puppets, water balloons and slapstick comedy

"I had a lot of fun watching this play" writes Delon Weerasinghe of Ubu Rex

"It was different". That seemed to be what most people thought about "Ubu Rex", the latest production by Mind Adventures, staged at the British Council early this month. Considering it was performed outdoors, with a ventriloquist concept for dialogue and throwing water balloons at the actors was encouraged, "different" would be a very safe thing to call this play. 

Theatrically speaking, experimenting with different forms is good, some might even say essential, but it's just that this production sometimes had too many things happening. And this made it very difficult to concentrate on the plot. 

The story follows Ubu (Shanaka Amarasinghe/Wachindra Bandara) as he, egged on by his ambitious wife (Tracy Holsinger/Michael De Soyza) plots to overthrow Wenceslas (Prasad Pereira/Jehan Bastians) and have himself crowned the king of Poland. He enlists the help of Ma'nure (Ishraq Wahab/Suren Gnanaraj), an ambitious captain in the Polish army. Together they murder Wenceslas. Now king, Ubu sees no reason to keep his promise to Ma'nure and has him thrown in jail. Ma'nure escapes, and with the support of the Czar of Russia, returns to overthrow Ubu and restore Wenceslas' son Boggerlass (Yohan Kumaraperuma/Amal De Chickera) to the Polish throne. 

The play, directed by Tracy Holsinger was an ambitious exercise in form, incorporating a lot of physical theatre and audience participation. It takes some courage to break away from the stale and staid forms of theatre we see so often on the local stage, and they managed it well. Yet, some members of the audience were visibly uncomfortable with the lack of a clear audience/actor boundary. The chosen performance space was the garden of the British Council. The organisers had perhaps underestimated the influence of the weather in this setting. One show had to be postponed because of rain, and it drizzled heavily throughout the performance on the night I attended. 

But it is hard to imagine this play indoors either. That was apparent almost as soon as the play began, when the audience was told there was a water balloon under every seat. This, we were enlightened, was for throwing - at any member of the cast who reminded us of someone we didn't like (!). The water balloon idea was great fun and certainly got the audience involved, but I failed to see how this contributed in any way to the play. Indeed, some people who had moved into the dry corridor area because of the drizzle, seemed quite displeased when their neighbours turned into balloon-toting miscreants. At the very least, the distraction caused by the exploding balloons made it very difficult to concentrate on what was going on in the play. It couldn't have been too much of a picnic for the cast either who had to endure the onslaught of more than a hundred water balloons in the rain. 

The portrayal of characters was also somewhat different. The actor playing the role mimed the part while another actor delivered his dialogue from offstage - very much like a puppet and ventriloquist combination. This concept was quite successful as the actors playing the main roles and their voices worked well together. But in some places the minor roles were rather weak in synchronizing words with actions, and one felt that these were somewhat under-rehearsed. But overall, it was a good acting performance by the cast, and it was largely that which carried the play. 

Sadly the script by Alfred Jarry really let them down. To its credit, it was consistently witty and even downright clever in some places. But it had a very significant flaw - the lack of a compelling plot. Although loosely similar to the story of Macbeth, many of the features that make Shakespeare's play so powerful, were missing from Jarry's script. For example, the power play between the protagonist and his wife simply failed to impress. The characters lacked depth which left the audience clueless as to their motivation. Sometimes it felt as though things happened simply because if they didn't, the play would end there. And indeed the ending itself can only be described as a non-event. I don't think it would be a great injustice to say that the cast and the director managed to do more with the script than it perhaps deserved. I wonder how much more compelling the production would have been if all the good ideas in it had been combined with a good script. 

A few things on the logistical side of the production could have been tightened up as well. On the day I went, there was some noisy construction work on the premises that continued a good five minutes into the play. I also felt that the lights could have been used to better effect if some of the other lights around could have been switched off. Although a difficult proposition given the location, isolating the characters through lighting could have enhanced the play. 

But all that being said, I had a lot of fun watching this play. It never took itself too seriously, and didn't pretend to be anything more than an entertaining evening of slapstick/screwball comedy. The benchmark for any play has to be whether or not it managed to entertain its audience. This did. A successful play so often boils down to two things - a good script and good acting. The acting was good, the script was bad. One out of two isn't bad - two out of two would have been brilliant. 


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