Maname: Continuation of the same production :
Does it appeal to the contemporary audience?
(Continued from last week)
Professor Sarachchandra himself created a stream of drama which is
unrivalled in our theatre history, from the short interludes like
Rattaran, Elova Gihin Melova Ava and Vellavaehun to the major plays in
which he explored the Maname Nataka from, his own unique creations:
Sinhabahu, Premato Jayati Soko and Lamahansa Natakaya and its
variations, Vessantara and Mahasara.
Indeed, in fairness to a great artiste we need to remember that
Maname is not perhaps the peak of Professor Sarachchandra's dramatic
oeuvre. To my mind, there are twin peaks, Sinhabahu and Premato Jayati
The production by Professor Sarachchandra which was staged, for the
first time, in 1956, celebrates fifty years. While Maname Nadagama based
on the Jataka story of the same name, brings out the unfaithful and
feeble nature of the woman according to conventional Sri Lankan
thinking, Sarachchandra's modern rendering focuses on the human
He turns it into a communication of humaneness.However, Maname cannot
be described as a pure Sinhala drama as it is influenced by other
factors including ethnic dancing traditions. Therefore, it should be
more aptly called a Sri Lankan drama.
Maname also marked the beginning of a serious drama criticism in
Sinhala. For instance, the Maname critique by Professor Siri Gunasinghe
was as meticulous as the drama itself.
Professor Sarachchandra himself stated in his autobiographical novel
'Pin Ethi Sarasavi Varamak', that when Maname was staged at the Lionel
Wendt, the affluent class was used to sending their servants to see the
Professor Sarachchandra had done a great deal of research into the
diverse folk-drama and traditions since 1953 and it should be mentioned
that Maname was the culmination of the painstaking research. However,
following Maname, a generation of dramatists emerged who basically and
blindly imitated the motifs of Maname until 1962's production of 'Sinha
This movement of stylish-drama faded away with a generation of
dramatists who started to experiment with drama, such as, Henry Jayasena,
and Sugathapala de Silva. These bi-lingual intellectuals who had been
,by then, fed up with the monotony of the stylish-drama of the day which
were dominated by borrowed features of Maname (Pote Guru, chorus etc.),
had started to produce adaptations and translations of European Drama.
Prescribed A/L text
Although Maname has been a prescribed text for the Advanced Level
syllabus, it is pertinent, at this stage, to pose the question how far
the continuation of the production in its original form is relevant to
contemporary Sri Lankan society against the backdrop of redefined class
The simple class structure that was in place at the turn of the 19th
century had now been withered into thin air and in its place is a
complex class structure and certain professional guilds emerged, and
they are more attuned to cheap pop music than value-based works of Art.
On the other hand, perhaps, it is only Maname that has continuously
carried on the same production for over fifty years totally disregarding
the ground realities and changes that had been taken place in the sphere
of Drama and Theatre in Sri Lanka in general, and society at large.
The secret behind the continuous popularity of Shakespeare's dramas
is their different productions and adaptations in many parts of the
globe by dramatists. This fact was amply manifested by the overwhelming
reception that Professor Ashley Halpe's adaptation of Shakespeare's
Twelfth Night had, when it was staged at Punchi Theatre last week.
New generation of dramatists
The new generation of dramatists have opened up several avenues in
Sri Lankan drama and theatre; as the semi-stylish drama of Henry
Jayasena such as 'Kuveni' and Sugathapala de Silva's realistic drama as
well as the emergence of mass visual media such as in TV and cinema.
Within this system of education, students are compelled to study
Drama and Theatre only to pass examinations and as an easy avenue to
gain university entrance.
Due to demeaned public taste and ignorance, the audience is used to
watch cheap dramas and pass judgement on characters in classical
productions comparing them with the comic characters portrayed by the
same actors and actresses.
In this millieu, it is no wonder that there is a trend of audiences
hooting the classical productions. In addition, the dramatists should
also take into consideration the infinite technological advancements
that have taken place in the theatre.
In order to attract more spectators other than the old generation who
sang and acted chapters of Maname at parties, and the Advanced Level
students the present production of Maname should keep up the high
quality of the original production by Professor Sarachchandra
integrating modern developments in the theatre, into the production.
It should be emphasized here that the audience who appreciated Maname
consisted of multi-ethnic population including Tamils and Muslims.
Therefore, it is timely that Maname should also be produced in Tamil by
Tamil academics with a wide understanding of Tamil language and
It is also the responsibility of the academics to contribute more and
more in terms of literary criticism like those by Reggie Siriwardena.
Academics like Dr. Lukshmi de Silva who made an enormous and lasting
contribution to the literature are now out of the limelight.
Considering this situation, it is imperative that academics should
contribute more in order to attract the younger generation to the Drama
and Theatre or Ananda College should produce at least another Reggie
Reggie Siriwardena commenting on Maname says:
Looking back on my first night responses to Maname twenty-five years
ago (I articulated them a few days later in a review in the Ceylon Daily
News), I recall that what struck me most forcefully in the play was
Prof. Sarathchandra's breakthrough in the theatrical form. This was not
only my reaction. It was also that of several other early critics of the
The University Sinhala Dramatic Society had in the forties and early
fifties presented adaptations of European dramatists-Moliere, Gogol-as
well as Prof. Sarathchandra's original play, Pabavati.
The mode of these plays was that of light domestic comedy, and the
linguistic idiom of urban middle-class speech. This was true even of
Pabavati: although its subject was legendary, the tone and idiom were
such as to make the characters seem to have come out of a Colombo
In these plays what the stage presented was a mildly caricatured
version of the social world of the audience, for the playgoers who came
to Sinhala drama and King George's Hall were a bilingual urban
middle-class group - a subset, so to speak, of the audience which went
to the same hall to watch the productions of Prof. Ludowyk.
It has often been said that through Maname Prof. Sarathchandra was
able to appeal successfully to every class of theatregoer and to bring a
new audience into the Sinhala theatre. But I think it is necessary to
define more exactly the social composition of this new audience and the
precise extent to which Maname broke down the class distinctions in
Nobody thought twenty-five years ago of making a sociological study
of the theatre audience. But from my impressions of the spectators who
came to the performance of Maname in its early years at the Borella YMBA
and Lumbini, I would hazard the guess that the new audience of 1956 and
immediately succeeding years was composed predominantly of urban lower
middle-class Sinhala speaking people.
It seems to me unlikely that, in those years at any rate, the Sinhala
theatre was able to reach out to any significant extent to social groups
beyond the middle class. However, the broadening of the theatre audience
by Maname in 1956 was a significant phenomenon, for while the Sinhala
speaking lower middle-class may in previous decades have gone to Tower
Hall or Jayamanne plays, they hardly came to King George's Hall.
What Maname effected then was to give the bilingual artists working
in the theatre - Prof. Sarathchandra and those who came in his wake:
Gunasena Galappaththi, Dayananda Gunawardena and Henry Jayasena - an
opening to the Sinhala-speaking lower middle class.
In the socio-cultural climate of 1956 this process was assisted by
the fact that Maname and the form it brought to the contemporary stage
was a renewal of a traditional form of the Sinhala folk drama.
Apart from the intrinsic dramatic achievement of Maname - its
undoubted success in fusing action, words and music - part of the appeal
that the play had to audiences and critics was in its rediscovery of an
indigenous folk tradition. It was in consonance with the climate of
Sinhala cultural revivalism in and after 1956.
It is significant that in much of the critical writing of the period
Maname was contrasted with the 'hybrid form' of the nurtiya. 'Hybrid',
perhaps, in its incongruous mixture of different theatrical conventions:
but underlying the use of the word, there was also probably an allusion
to the fact that the origins of the nurtiya were foreign - the Parsi
theatre and, behind it, a debased transmission of the influences of
European opera. Maname, in contrast, was felt to be a growth out of the
native soil, and this facilitated its acceptance in 1956.
The fortunes of what came to be called the 'stylised theatre' after
Maname and its viability today are large questions which I don't propose
to discuss here...