Actor turned writer: Tony’s passion for Shakespeare drama

Kala Korner by Dee Cee

In the 1960s, a smart young man dominated both the stage and the screen in the local scene. He was a born actor. Hard work made him stand out amongst many. Tony Ranasinghe soon became a household name. While elder brother Ralex went places with his photography and graphics, Tony concentrated on acting.

Ape Kattiya who created waves in theatre circles could not do without him. He was in every play that Ape Kattiya presented – and they did quite a number. Most of the themes were unconventional and led to much debate. Ranthodu brought Tony the Governor-General’s Award for Best Actor. Just as much as the name of the play was intriguing, so was Tony’s acting in Harima Badu Hayak. A cameo role as Baladasa in Gamperaliya made Lester James Peries offer him the lead role in Delovak Atara – a story of a happy-go-lucky young man, followed by Ran Salu and Ahasin Polowata. Playing besides the actor of the day, Gamini Fonseka, in Gamini’s maiden attempt at film direction, Parasathu Mal was a challenge to Tony. He was in demand and many were the memorable roles he played. The small screen was no exception, as he took on many roles in several teledramas.

As he matured, Tony developed a taste for writing, starting with screenplays. Koti Waligaya was the first. Then he moved on to stage-play scripts. He had a preference for Shakespeare drama and translated Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar. He also wrote a number of teledrama scripts.
Now in book form

Tony’s script for the stage play, Julius Caesar has come out in print as a Fast Publishing publication. It’s not a mere translation, it’s much more. He devotes over 160 pages to a lengthy discussion on Shakespeare’s life and his contribution to literature. It demonstrates Tony’s commitment to presenting an in-depth study of the great author. It is a valuable document to the Sinhala reader interested in the subject.

Tony points out that Shakespeare was and is no stranger to local theatregoers. In 1859, a touring party staged Cymbeline in Maradana. In 1874, the students of S. Thomas College staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream while in 1884 C.Don Bastian translated Romeo and Juliet into Sinhala and staged it. The lead role was played by D. Bartholomeusz. This possibly was the first Sinhala Shakespeare drama.
In documenting Shakespeare’s ancestry, Tony goes into British history of the 16th century, recording interesting incidents relating to royalty.

He, however, casts some doubts over Shakespeare’s birthday and the day of his death being April 23. His baptism had been on April 26, 1564 according to the Register of Births and Deaths securely deposited at the church at Stratford, his birthplace.

Referring to Shakespeare’s early plays, Tony quotes authoritative sources according to whom Titus Andronicus, Comedy of Errors, King John and King Henry Parts I, II & III are considered the first six. These are believed to have been written between 1588-92. Discussing Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Tony compares their lifestyles and describes him as a disciplined man unlike the others. After describing Shakespeare’s life story, Tony moves on to trace the background to the drama Julius Caesar and in the process gives the reader an overview of Rome and its history including the emergence of Caesar. Tony presents his script of the play only after a detailed analysis of the original play.

Tony’s language is lucid. His choice of words is just right to fit the different situations and moods.
Tony has entertained us for nearly five decades. His classic performances are etched in our memory. It’s good that he continues to provide us with meaningful writing and an occasional appearance on the screen.

Keep it up, Tony!

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