Sri Lankan theatre actor Hiran Abeysekera last week won the 2022 Olivier Awards for the Best Actor for his performance in the stage adaptation of ‘Life of Pi’ made based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel. A Sri Lankan from heart and soul, having received his award at the Royal Albert Hall in [...]


Hiran’s journey from Playhouse Kotte to coveted Olivier award

I can see a Tony coming his way-Jerome

Sri Lankan theatre actor Hiran Abeysekera last week won the 2022 Olivier Awards for the Best Actor for his performance in the stage adaptation of ‘Life of Pi’ made based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel.

A Sri Lankan from heart and soul, having received his award at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Hiran did not forget to remember his Sri Lanka going through a social, political and an economic turmoil.

Hiran as Pi

 “My motherland going through a tough time now… I think of you and wish I was there with you. Machangla Mama Oyalata Adarei (I Love you buddies)” Hiran said to an audience with world renowned theatre artistes and theatre lovers.

Going through Hiran’s journey from his alma mater Nalanda College to Albert Hall, we spoke to Chandana Aluthge and actress Kaushalya Fernando of Somalatha Subasinghe Play House or Play House Kotte from where Hiran laid the foundation for theatre. Hiran is the son of Chandana’s  neighbour, who had been brought up in the shadows of Playhouse Kotte started by the late actress and playwright Somalatha Subasinghe.

“Hiran is coming from a family of social workers and artistes. His grandfather was Ariyananda Abeysekara who started the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement and his mother Sobhana Iddamalgoda was a ballet student of Oosha Saravanmuttu,” Kaushalya said.

Kaushalya Fernando

“My mother and father who were regularly out with their busy schedules used to leave us with Hiran’s grandmother and our families were close. As a child Hiran used to regularly visit our place. Having unable to enter university from his Advance level which he did in maths or science stream, the young man opted to sit for the exam again in the arts stream and I volunteered to help him with the subject theatre and arts,” actress Kaushalya Fernando said.

Chandana Aluthge

It was during this period Hiran joined ‘Walas Pawula’ theatre production by Somalatha Subasinghe and later he joined ‘Vikurthi’,  Kaushalya’s ‘Sanda Langa Maranaya’ and many of their productions.

“He was very meticulous in his work. He handled the production extremely well. I could remember for a play, he did the props all alone an entire night,” Kaushalya said.

Jerome De Silva

Later Hiran played in Steve De La Zilwa’s theatre remake of ‘Equus’, a British Council production and this helped Hiran to an audition for a drama school in the UK, following which he secured a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from where he graduated in 2011, the second Sri Lanka to achieve such a feat.

 “Most important quality of Hiran is, he is down to earth and keeps his feet always on the ground. And he is very sociable character but never goes after publicity,” Kaushalya said adding that he has won some awards earlier but never went after media to promote himself.

“Hiran is extremely passionate about theatre. During Corona pandemic while he was in Sri Lanka he built a theatre on his own hand at his residence and performed a play,” said Kaushalya.

“He is a gem to Sri Lanka,” Kaushalya who too is excited about Hiran achievement said.

“From the time he joined our theatre he had the passion for what he was doing. He had complete dedication for what he was doing and passionate about acting,” said Chandana Aluthge, Artistic Director of Somalatha Subasinghe Play House.

HIran with the award

“Somewhere around 2003 he joined ‘Walas Pawule’ to play a parrot and that was his first public performance.  He did it really well,” said Chandana. Later he played a role in one of Chamila Priyanka’s plays and he won the Best Actor from the Colombo University.

“There were young men with us who were more talented than Hiran but it was his passion, dedication and hard work that paid him,” Chandana explained.

Hiran’s extraordinary achievement is also a landmark in country’s theatre which is in a long struggle without much attention by the state or private sector. Thanks to the hard fight and sacrifices made by many theatre producers , teachers and lovers of Sri Lankan theatre who equally cherish the victory of Hiran.

Veteran English theatre director Jerome De Silva who had dedicated more than five decades for theatre and who also runs the renowned ‘The Workshop Players’ speaking about Hiran’s award said “we are absolutely thrilled; a person from Sri Lanka has made it really big. That is the highest award anyone can get in theatre for the year,”.

“I knew Hiran from his very young age because his mother Sobhani and I used to dance under Auntry Oosha. So I knew him since he was little. But he came to real significance with Somalatha Subasinghe’s Play House Kotte. He was in ‘Vikurthi’ and after that he was Alan Strang of Steve De La Zilwa’s play, remake of ‘Equus’,’ Jerome stated.

“He was from Nalanda and we knew that he was intending for greater things. He then joined RADA. He was Peter Pan and he was not a stranger to the West End. Then he got Pi in the Life of Pi,” Jerome remembered some of junctures in Hiran’s journey.

“He was extremely talented and we knew he was going to do some great things there and bring credit to Sri Lanka. The best thing is now they are going to cross the Atlantic to go to Broadway and I can see a Tony coming his way,” Jerome said referring to the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre. “It is amazing that it is the first time ever we had such significance,” he added.

With his long experience in Sri Lankan theatre Jerome said that Sri Lanka possesses great talents in theatre who could not make to international. “We had had several people like Thusitha Jayasundara who was also graduated from RADA”.

“While Hiran is supremely talented, he was also at the correct time at the correct place with the correct colour. There are few roles like that. It is the colour of the skin that dominant feature here,” explained Jerome who said that he was not talking in a racial way.

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