Sri Lankan theatre and the politics at play | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan theatre and the politics at play

9 December, 2018

The ongoing national drama of the political stage which erupted on October 26 plays on with no definite climactic finale yet in sight. Sri Lanka’s growing theatre culture composed of the wider spread Sinhala theatre and the more Colombo centric, yet, commendably proliferating English theatre, has over the years offered theatregoers stage plays thematically woven on Sri Lanka’s political culture and events that shape contemporary politics. Theatre, after all is one of the oldest mediums of social and political criticism built on the art of stage performance. But, how striking a theatre culture does Sri Lanka have when it comes to delivering socio-political critique through the art of performance to kindle critical thought that can lead to conscious civil activism, is another question altogether. Theatre to Sri Lankans, serves primarily as entertainment and may not in most instances have an impact that has ripples outside the auditorium.

On the afternoon of October 27 I received a thought provoking text message from Nishantha de Silva of Anandadrama, who has over the years collaborated with his fellow Anandadrama helmsmen Ishtartha Wellaboda and Rajitha Hettiarachchi in scripting and directing works of theatre. The contents of Nishantha’s text message to me was –“I hope you kinda understand what we were going for with Picket Republic now.” The sentence ended with the emoticon/emoji that shows a laughing face with tears streaming down the sides of the eyes.

I can only fathom what Nishantha and Co. might be concocting for theatregoers next! ‘Picket Republic’ by Anandadrama which was a Sinhala – English bilingual drama was staged at the Lionel Wendt auditorium for a two night show run in mid December 2017. Yours truly reviewed ‘Picket Republic’ in the Sunday Observer, January 21st issue of this year, with the title ‘The Gabble of a Dishevelled Protest’.

‘Picket Republic’ portrayed rulers and their ‘partisanship’ to their followers as merely a facade and a bogus creation of the political culture we have inherited. Indeed, the play suggests that what exists in truth behind the ‘stage’ is perennial secretive bipartisanship between leaders in a ‘camp based’ arena in which groups eternally tussle with one another for power. I will state for the record that this article is not in any way a review in retrospect or otherwise of ‘Picket Republic’. It is more on the lines of looking at how theatre can in some instances become uncanny windows to future events.

And can be a medium to look back on events past with new points of view. On this line of discussion it is worth noting that in respect of making uncanny predictions about American politics the much loved animated cartoon series ‘The Simpsons’ aired an episode in 2000, on which Donald Trump is elected president of the USA. Yes, the Trump presidency was realised on The Simpsons 16 years ago. What perhaps is interesting to speculate with regard to present day Sri Lankan theatre in the context of the current state of political affairs in the country, is what sort of works will playwrights and directors produce in the days ahead? What type of expressions will come about in relation to the present intense political drama that is still in play? There are several markedly avant-garde experimental theatre groups in Sri Lanka’s English theatre stream like Mind Adventures Theatre Co., Floating Space Theatre Co., and Stages Theatre Group to name a few that come to mind, who may see the present political scenario as a theme for future productions. And then there are also the more mainstream audience focused theatre producers like Anandadrama, that may present on the boards of the Wendt another new ‘Republic’ to theatrically parody the times.

I wonder if Nishantha and Co. will put on a play where a ‘pink van’ scare engulfs the people of a Republic gone haywire. Whichever way the ‘creative community’ of the ‘stage’ may choose to express their thoughts to ‘theatrically caricature’ or ‘critically chastise’ the actors of the national political arena, there seems to be much food for thought out there to spur the theatre community to conceive works that would add to the annals of Sri Lankan theatre and enhance its scope to be a platform to offer socio-political critique through performance.