Madness and confusion take center stage at Yes. Hon. Minister

By Tahnee Hopman

To all appearances Richard Parakrama is the picture of virtue, as the Deputy Minister of English Affairs and Public Morality. George Palliaguru- his long suffering lackey- comes to know otherwise. No favour is too great when requested by the Deputy Minister who, incredibly enough, Palliyaguru has the utmost respect for; but little does poor George know that his ‘always so d*** cheerful’ attitude is about to be sorely tested.

All is well, until in ways that only a playwright like Ray Cooney could imagine, everything falls apart spectacularly. And no one dramatizes the madness better than Silent Hands- masters of Ray Cooney and comedy. Taking the stage of the Lionel Wendt from February 24-26, ‘Yes, Honourable Minister!’ is a Sri Lankan take on Ray Cooney’s 1981 political comedy ‘Two Into One’, and is directed by Neidra Williams and Jehan Bastians.

The play may be titled to reflect George Palliayaguru’s reluctantly subservient stance when it comes to his boss, but inside his head he screams ‘You stupid idiot! Why are you doing this to me?’ “Or at least that is what I think,” chuckles Charith De Silva who will take on the role around which most of the play’s action takes place.

“George is actually rather intelligent even though he does tend to get over-excited and say the wrong things,” continues Charith. “He is the only person who, at every point in the play, knows exactly what is going on.”

And there is such goings on. Ray Cooney is the master of making chaos look good, and this play is no exception. “It is probably one of his more inspired works,” states Neidra. “But despite all the madness and confusion, this is one of those comedies which is also immensely enjoyable when simply read as a script. It gives actors a chance to not be too slapstick- which is an easy tendency to fall into.”

Charith agrees. “The situations are funny,” he says, “and yes, while slapstick is inevitable at times this play allows us to take things to another level- it poses the challenge of looking at each line objectively and figuring out the best way to take it where the best jokes are done justice to.”

For every member of the cast, this involves a great deal of spot-on timing. “As things keep spiraling out of control,” it is important to react well to what is taking place on stage as well as keep up the momentum in a way that is not too slapstick or hysterical.”

With the success of several memorable comedies- Tom, Dick and Harry, Boeing Boeing, Move Over Mrs. Markham, and Leading Ladies- Neidra and Jehan are no strangers to the art of presenting comedy. “We enjoy directing other genres of theatre as well,” explains Jehan, referring to the productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Excalibur and their work with school casts for the annual Shakespeare Drama Competition.

“But comedy is something all of us really enjoy and this type of comedy really goes down well with the audience. Despite its title, ‘Yes, Hon. Minister!’ is not a political satire, even though Ray Cooney wrote it as one. We found that the script worked well with a different context- a local one- because some of the humour and references in the original script had become slightly dated.” “We find that apart from the audience’ reaction, our actors fit in very well with a comedy. They are comfortable with the genre and that allows them to have fun with their roles while looking at different ways of portraying them,” adds Neidra.

Judging by the atmosphere of relaxation and the frequent guffaws that characterize a typical Silent Hands practice, it would be hard to disagree. “We’re just one crazy family coming together when we meet up at practices,” comments Sashini Wakwella who will take the role of the humourless Hotel Manager who is intent on finding out exactly what nonsense is taking place in her hotel. “There are several skeletons in closets throughout the drama and even a supposedly dull character like a pompous manager becomes interesting because of the contrasts drawn with the other characters.”

“In that sense, every character is important,” says Michelle Herft who will play Jennifer Almeida- the secretary of a well known Member of Parliament and Richard Parakrama’s new romantic interest. “Everyone contributes in some way to the action and makes things all the more crazy.” The cast of ‘Yes, Hon. Minister!’ includes Jehan Bastians, Neidra Williams, Charith De Silva, Sashini Wakwella, Avishka De Alwis, Michelle Herft, Naresh Anthony, Eshantha De Andrado, Rashmi Fernando, Sulochana Perera and Stephan Anoj. The production is handled by Javin Thomas. The play is supported by SP Solutions, with The Sunday Times and Daily Mirror as its Print Media Sponsors; and ETV and E FM as Electronic media Sponsors. Tickets priced at Rs. 1500, 1000, 750 and 500 are available at the Lionel Wendt.

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