Tatta Gaayikaawa: Stark entertainment without gimmicks

Two public performances: Two public performances of Thatta Gaayikaawa, an adaptation of Eugène Ionesco' s La Cantatrice Chauve (The Bald Soprano), directed by Kanchuka Dharmasiri will be staged at Lumbini Theatre on November 10 at 3.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m.
Reviewed by Haig Karunaratne

Kanchuka Dharmasiri’s Tatta Gaayikaawa (The Bald Soprano) is altogether “different” theatre. It makes the audience imagine through mind, movement, dialogue, comic improvisation, and voice variation that the absurd world seen on stage reflects the reality of their mundane lives. It makes in an entertaining way, many insightful and serious comments on contemporary life. What better theatre than that which makes one see contemporary life in such an artistic way –“absurd” though it be!

I had seen this same play at the John de Silva Memorial Hall many years ago when Gamini Haththotuwegama insisted that I see it with him mentioning that Kanchuka Dharmasiri was a student of his. Comparing the two productions, I felt that I was seeing two altogether different plays.

I thought the large John de Silva Memorial Theatre was not the ideal place for staging this play. The impact was diffused, the very extreme of what I experienced seeing it at the Punchi Theatre where one was almost eye ball to eye ball with the actors, who again seemed to have understood the play better.

Lakmali Jayasinghe carried away the honours with a virtuoso performance which will stand out as one of the best sustained acting achievements in Sinhala theatre for a long period of time. It was both a director’s play and an actor’s play. That was its strength. Acting is a craft that one has to constantly keep learning. One has only to remember that Iranganie Serasinghe has achieved great heights in her profession only because of the humility with which she approaches every role she attempts, be it Grusha or Lady Macbeth. The cast seemed to have imbibed this value, their performances showing that each line would have undergone much workshop discussion and interaction. Interaction between the director and fellow actors results in an evolution of techniques so essential if one is to play it for truth and not ham act. The sets, music and lighting all contributed to a very tight production with hardly any flaws.

Had the curtain come down when the Fire Chief left the stage, the play could have been better appreciated as there was a slight drop in the performance at this point and thereafter considerable time was taken to re-establish the level of intensity achieved in the earlier scenes. This was but a small deviation and holding back of the momentum in what was otherwise a production which kept us all spellbound.

As for the transcreation, it augurs well for the future that the adaptation through dialogue with local colour was so controlled. It should set guidelines for translators and directors who so often lose their sense of proportion distorting the original work as a result.

It was a superb evening of entertainment devoid of gimmicks and one left the theatre realizing what a fine vehicle it was for triggering something that was essential today in Sri Lanka: soul searching.

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