Stringing together diversity

By Megara Tegal, Pix by Saman Kariyawasam

They’re rehearsing in clusters but it’s hard to miss the celebrities in each group of actors. But the more well known faces apart, there are those that stand out from each group, clearly conveying the diversity of the cast of ‘If I Were You’.

Back in Sri Lanka on an invitation by the British Council, well known British playwright William Scott Richards, is devising and directing this play for the 60th anniversary of the British Council of Sri Lanka.

The British trainer from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) has directed plays in Sri Lanka previously in which the story isn’t predetermined and instead evolves during the rehearsals. This time around the process is a little more complicated. If the previous cast was put through hurdles, the new cast is jumping through hoops of fire, yet loving every moment of it.

Having selected scenes from 12 different plays that were written over the past 75 years, William intends to string them together to create a whole new and original production. “It’s quite a task. Each scene represents a fundamental issue of our lives—family, morality, aging, love, gender and peace to name some. It’s a cascade of changes and a cascade of scenes. But they all connect because each scene is about understanding people and getting people to understand you,” explains William, who selected the plays while still in the UK with the help of Jenny Buckman.

Communication being the central theme of the play, it’s not only projected in the story but through the performance as well. Each actor will speak in their preferred language of Sinhala, Tamil or English, and this aspect of inclusion extends to the hearing and speech impaired actors from the Sunera Foundation, who will be communicating in sign language.

For members of the cast, the challenge that Scott Richards has set them has fired them with enthusiasm and raw determination. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’d know about the popular Sri Lankan actor, Palitha Silva. Having been heavily involved with the British Council and the workshops they’ve organised for the past 20 years, Palitha was quick to audition for the play when he heard about it. While he’s won several awards for his performances on screen and on stage over the past 27 years, he humbly says it’s a very good experience for him to work with someone like William Scott Richards. “He has new ideas and new techniques that I’d like to learn.”

William Scott Richards: It’s all about communication

“Personally, I think it’s a little experimental, which is why we should do things like this more often. I’m sure the play will be successful. The concept of trilingual plays is new to Sri Lanka, we’ve never thought of it before. And there’ll be sign language in this one as well. This will definitely be a new experience for the Sri Lankan audience,” he adds.

Poopalasingam Pratheepan, 30, an experienced thespian has been a part of the Centre for Performing Arts from 1999 to 2005 performing in Trincomalee. Coming to Colombo he joined Anooja Abihina’s Academy of Performing Arts where he works as an instructor.

Pratheepan though, is no stranger to Sinhala or English theatre, and has even performed at the Edinburgh International Arts Festival, acting the leading role in ‘Memoirs of Monkey Boy’. Not restricting his talent to theatre, he’s acted in the popular Sri Lankan film ‘Machan’.

This play however, he says, is a whole new experience for him. “This is totally different from what I’ve done before. Normally we’d have a script and we try our best to become our character. But in ‘If I Were You’, we ask ourselves that question and try to act how you would behave.”

Already having seven years of acting experience Indika Bandara Adakari (23) has been performing in plays organised by the Kurunegala Sunera Foundation. Not allowing a speech and hearing impairment get in the way of doing what he loves and what he is talented in, Indika has studied acting from a very tender age. “I’m really glad to be a part of this production and perform alongside people speaking in other languages. Here sign language is seen as another language and is equal to the other languages and we appreciate that,” he says.

Working it out for themselves

“If there isn’t an interpreter, the actors try their best to understand what we are trying to say,” he adds.
Visaka Jayaweera (40) has performed in the previous play directed by William Scott Richards. She too is an experienced actress who’s won awards for her expertise. “The challenge is putting it all together into one play. We know the flow but we’re still finding ways to put it together. William has an idea but he wants us to do it ourselves. But I trust William because I know he is going to create something new,” says Visaka, adding “he isn’t scared to go beyond rules, he trust himself and he knows the art. So it’s easy for us to trust him.”

While the British Council of Sri Lanka is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, globally the British Council is celebrating its 75th anniversary. While anniversary events have taken place throughout the year, the play is their gala event for the celebrations.

‘If I Were You’ will be staged on November 7 at 7 p.m. at the British Council, Colombo and on November 14 at Trinity College, Kandy at 6:30

p.m. Tickets priced at Rs. 200 will be available from October 26 onwards at the British Council Colombo and Kandy at the help desk. Sponsors for the event are Colombo Hilton and Emirates. Print media sponsors include Wijeya Newspapers Ltd, while electronic media sponsors are Yes FM, Sirasa FM, Shakthi FM, Channel One MTV, Sirasa TV and Shakthi TV.

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