Delight of many layers

CentreStage productions will stage the third re-run of their popular Pyramus and Thisby
By Smriti Daniel

Jehan Aloysius tells me there are actually Pyramus and Thisby junkies. If you're one of them, here's your chance to cultivate your habit. This month will mark the third run of Centrestage Production's 2006 hit. Hailed by critics as a masterpiece of Sri Lankan theatre, the play combines some of the best of both Eastern and Western theatrical traditions. Incorporating Kandyan drummers, acrobats, fire dancers and other performers from all over Sri Lanka, and featuring dialogue by Shakespeare, Pyramus and Thisby continues to be a many layered delight.

The plot follows the doings of a group of artisans who under the leadership of Peter Quince, are in the middle of rehearsals for the play Pyramus and Thisby. As the company rehearses in the centre of the forest, trouble has already begun to brew in the form of a battle between the armies of the Fairy King and Queen over an Indian boy. Complicating matters, the wily Puck creates madness and mayhem wherever he turns his eye, while Bottom the weaver is quite literally made an ass of by a spell...and is consequently somewhat surprised to find himself cast in the role of Titania's latest paramour.

For Jehan's cast, the play still presents a challenge. Jude Neomal Babapulle plays King Oberon in the play, and he says that it's unique combination of influences have insured that actors and actresses are forced to juggle singing, dancing and Shakespearian verse as they perform. The physical strain is pronounced and the performance itself demands a great deal of stamina. Neomal has been with the play through its multiple runs and his frank response to what keeps the play interesting is a simple – "it's just hilarious." Citing the play within a play structure, the colourfulness and the improved technical aspect this staging will afford, he says there's plenty to keep the audience glued to the action on stage.

Tanya Seneratne plays Queen Titania, and she's been on the cast since the production debuted. She says that the play encourages audience participation, and has been known to keep children hopping in their seats. For her and the cast, this unexpected benefit is just more evidence that the play's appeal crosses the age barrier. The madness that is A Midsummer Night's Dream is among the plays biggest influences, and the sub-plots are where the meat really lies, explains Tanya, adding that when the players pretend to fumble the Bard's immortal lines, the audience has proved more than willing to correct them.

The play continues to draw audiences for most part because no rerun is ever exactly the same. Jehan's vision for the play is that it evolves continuously, as do many of his other pieces. Describing himself as humbled by the response the play drew when it was first staged two years ago, Jehan says that there is already talk about making Pyramus and Thisby a text for drama students. So far, audiences have been small, restricted to approximately 200 by the outdoor setting of the play. With this staging however, the organisers are taking it indoors. On the stage at the Wendt, Pyramus and Thisby's newest incarnation should be savvier and shinier than ever before and accessible to a much larger audience. This is Jehan's chance to put use lights and the other perks that accompany a formal stage, and he's not passing up on it.

Anuk de Silva plays Peter Quince, and the actor will be the first to admit that his role has seen him evolve as a performer. Looking back over the play's previous incarnations, Anuk believes the play has also only gotten more interesting as they prepare to take it to an indoor venue. It represents a huge change for the actors as well, he says. But since Centrestage might shelve the play for a few years after this production, everyone is giving it their best. Jehan objective all along has been to create the ultimate Pyramus and Thisby, says Anuk, and this may very well be it.

Pyramus and Thisby devised, choreographed and directed by Jehan, with music composed by him as well, and performed by Avanti Perera. The show is on at the Lionel Wendt from October 31 – November 2, at 7.30pm. Tickets are currently on sale. Call 2695794 for tickets inquiries.

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