Hedda Gabler comes out with a bang in Sinhala

By Ayesha Inoon

She is an unfulfilled, frustrated woman struggling between the desires of her heart and the conventions placed by society. Her character has many nuances, fascinating an audience with every word she utters. Hedda, the protagonist in Henrik Ibsen’s intriguing drama, ‘Hedda Gabler’ comes to life in Namel Weeramuni’s Sinhala adaptation of the play, ‘Ginnai Adarayai’. Scheduled to be performed at the Namel Malini Punchi Theatre from June 23 to 28, at 6:45 p.m., the play is in commemoration of the centenary death anniversary of Ibsen which fell on May 23.

Ibsen was one of the most influential playwrights of modern theatre. One hundred years after his death the plays of the legendary Norwegian dramatist continue to captivate audiences with their universal messages. Thousands of events have been organized around the world to commemorate what Norway has termed ‘The Year of Ibsen’.

‘Hedda Gabler’, first performed in 1891, was originally met with much criticism due to its controversial nature. However, it now enjoys the distinction of being one of Ibsen's premier works and a landmark of realist drama.

‘Ginnai Adarayai’ represented Sri Lanka at an International Festival of Henrik Ibsen’s plays held in Lahore in April, where it was recognized as the best-produced and best-designed play from all the eight countries that participated. Quite an achievement, admits Mr. Weeramuni, since he had only 28 days to put the play together, which could not have been done without the dedication of the entire crew.The play deals with a woman’s frustration-her dominating, aristocratic nature, says Mr. Weeramuni, adding that Hedda is one of the most complex roles in modern drama. His adaptation of the play has been tailored to the Sri Lankan background, yet retains all the force and charisma of the original. A Ves Natuma introduced into one of the scenes met with much applause at the Festival in Lahore, he says. The beautiful costumes, especially, are in keeping with the original productions.

The two primary male roles have been cast as medical professionals, with Hedda’s (Or Dulcy, in this version) husband, Stanley conducting research on the history of cancer and AIDS, while her former lover, Douglas, is studying the precautionary and remedial methods. Flirtation comes instinctively to the sexually repressed Hedda, says Mr. Weeramuni, yet she remains faithful to her husband who does not give her the love and attention she craves.

Namel Weeramuni

Eshanthi Mendis, the young amateur who plays Hedda is excited about her first public performance. “It is a challenging role,” she says, “of an ordinary woman who is struggling to gain her freedom.” Mr. Weeramuni’s faith in the cast has greatly inspired them, she says, adding that his methods and approach are always unique.

A final year law student, Jude Manesh Wevita is also going on stage for the first time in this production. Playing the role of Kurukulasuriya-a shrewd lawyer who tries to win Hedda for himself-he says that working with the rest of the team in putting this together has been a wonderful experience. He has learnt a lot from Mr. Weeramuni, who was their guiding force, he says. In addition to this performance a Festival of three of Ibsen’s plays has been planned for the end of July, including Mr. Weeramuni’s adaptation of the play, ‘An Enemy of the People’ as ‘Kawudo Sathuro’, which he says he has made even more relevant by basing it on the problem of water pollution and garbage.

Namel Weeramuni has himself played many roles in life-lawyer, husband, father, actor, playwright and producer. Having obtained his Masters Degree in Theatre Arts from the State University of California, Northridge, he retired from his career as a lawyer in 1994 to dedicate himself to the theatre. He promises that his love for and commitment to theatre are unending. After spending over 30 years overseas, he and his wife Manel returned to Sri Lanka in 2003, introducing the concept of ‘little theatre’by setting up the Namel Malini Punchi Theatre in Borella.

His first and most memorable performance he says was in Prof. Sarathchandra’s ‘Raththaran’, in 1959, when he was in University. Since then he has gone on to act, produce and write innumerable plays, including ‘Virupi Rupa’, ‘Vanasakkarayo’, ‘Kasi Raten’ and the immensely popular ‘Nattukkari’

Of his wife and childhood sweetheart Malini, he says, “She is my wife, my friend, my live wire,” adding that in their 43 years of marriage they have done many plays together. She plays the role of an aunt in ‘Hedda Gabler’.

“I have achieved what I have always wanted,” says Mr. Weeramuni, of his life in theatre, “What I have done, I have done well.”

The play ‘Hedda Gabler’ is a manifestation of his words.

Tickets for the play are available at the Namel Malini Punchi Theatre, Sarasavi Bookshop, Nugegoda, and Sadeepa Bookshop, Borella.


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