An affair to remember | Sunday Observer

An affair to remember

Veteran theatre practitioner, Jith Peiris, proved that he still has what it takes to tickle the funny bone of theatregoers in Colombo. Yours truly seated in Q-7 was one of the contributors to the laughter that erupted under the gentle darkness at the Wendt on October 29 as, Affair at Ward Place Hotel came to life on the boards, unveiling a comedy play that reflects the ‘climate’ we live in. Pot-shots and brickbats abounded with neither the opposition nor the regime in power being spared. Peiris really nails the crux of the nexus between today’s Sri Lankan political stage and its audiences and what theatregoers seek as social critique when they go to the theatre, when the character, State Minister Ranjith Wijesundera says “Sri Lankans want theatre in their politics and politics in their theatre.”

Affair at Ward Place Hotel is very much a creation that plays on the current ‘political currents’ with respect to the punches it throws at both political bigwigs and the party politics at play in the country. The story revolves around the amorous (and not to mention adulterous) adventure planned by the honourable Minister which spirals into a comedic misadventure at the Ward Place Hotel, where one of his nemeses from the other side of the political spectrum is also staying as a guest.

Bungling nitwit waiters whose knowledge of English doesn’t allow them to distinguish a wood apple from a coconut have managed to secure jobs at Ward Place Hotel in the aftermath of the government signing the (what is presently a highly contentious topic of debate) ETCA with India. In the wake of the Appropriation Bill aka, ‘The Budget’ the opposition is hunting for defectors with wads of cash to upset the government’s majority in parliament. Rumours are flying that certain members of parliament will cross over, and distrust is ripe at Temple Trees where practically every member of the party is under suspicion and scrutiny. And, in the midst of all this the minister is saddled with a secretary (his cousin) who after completing his studies overseas bearing high ideals is not really up to the mark to play politics –‘Sri Lankan style’.

A certain Sinhala film that stars a certain famous screen actor turned politician, where the protagonist is a sari draped cross dresser was mentioned much to the amusement of the crowd that evening.

When the minister ‘explained’ to his wife the bouquet of flowers he had actually got for his filmstar ‘girlfriend’, as given him by ‘lokka’ (leader/boss) since he had just been to Temple Trees (the official Prime Ministerial residence) the auditorium rippled with laughter and gasps. Was that below the belt or a knuckle sandwich right in the face, I shall let the reader decide.

A notable feature of the play is that there was Sinhala words and lines woven into the predominant English dialogue that captured a very distinct urban Sri Lankan flavour that reflects the dialectic scheme of code switching among bilinguals. Stagecraft was done very tastefully with appealing visual quality that enhanced the performance. However, the bar counter in the hotel lobby scene I must remark, seemed a bit impoverished with only a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label, an Apple Smirnoff and what seemed like a Sri Lankan brand of lemon gin betwixt the foreign brands!

Wasaam Ismail delivered an appreciable performance as the Hon. Ranjith Jayasundera, and Pemanthi Fernando playing the minister’s wife had a convincing flow to her character.

The play featured some relatively fresh faces on stage as well as comparatively new but proven talent like, Eraj Gunawardane.

Affair at Ward Place Hotel is a comedy that says for politicians (and their families) of the present mould, that their lives run a course of ‘all’s well that ends well’, since after all, no matter which party they claim membership in, they are all mutual players in the same ‘act’ which we, the people, are compelled to watch and jeer or applaud as we please, but never to ‘direct’.

The cast consisted of Wasaam Ismail, Pemanthi Fernando, Eraj Gunawardane, Kithmini Hewage, Madura Wijeratne, Nilushi Dewapura, Thanuki Goonesinghe, Lithmal Jayawardhana, and Chirantha Kolonne.

Jith Peiris and the Creative Arts Foundation, his team, can be applauded for having offered theatregoers a comedy that plays on strands of contemporary Sri Lankan politics.