Anarchy rising through chaos and comedy | Sunday Observer

Anarchy rising through chaos and comedy

31 March, 2019

On February 25 this year, after many years I had the pleasure of watching a stage play at the iconic Elphinstone Theatre in Maradana, Colombo, which had been closed for refurbishments for a considerable period and reopened earlier this year to the delight of theatregoers. As part of the State Drama Festival this year the Sinhala stage drama ‘Saakki’ (which translates verbatim to English as ‘Evidence’) was performed on the aforementioned date. Yours truly was there that evening under the gentle darkness of the Elphinstone to witness ‘Saakki’, a Sinhala translation of Nobel Prize winning Italian playwright Dario Fo’s ‘Morte accidentale di un anarchico’ which carries its English title as ‘The Accidental Death of an Anarchist’.

The twists and turns of events that unfold are hilarious and also subtly indicative of the misdeeds the authorities attempt to cover up and from which they try to escape accountability  

Translated by Vijitha Gunaratne, ‘Saakki’ was directed by veteran artiste K.A. Nimal Chandrasiri and consisted of the thespian talents of Vijitha Bandara, Sanath Kumarasiri, Nimal Chandrasiri, Avantha Dissanayake, Jagath Chandrasiri, and Kumari Senarathne. The story unfolds in the police headquarters of the Italian city of Milan, and revolves around the audacious doings of a quick witted, slick tongued, high handed fraudster who is not specifically named but called ‘maniac’. This character was deftly performed by Vijitha Bandara who displayed his prowess for delivering energetic drive on stage, from start to finish.

Fo’s play is one that contains a facet of ‘meta theatre’ which admits through the actors on stage that what they are performing on stage is in fact a drama and address the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall to state the fact that the actors on stage are not performing characters purporting to be ‘real’ for the purpose of the theatrical work being watched by a live audience. Thus the illusion of art’s ‘realness’ as theatre is dismantled constructively in a work of ‘meta theatre’, which is achieved particularly in certain instances in the performance, especially, at the end where Bandara’s character offers an ‘alternative ending’.

As a translation ‘Saakki’ didn’t appear to resort to ‘adaptive’ elements to ‘localise’ the geographical and cultural setting of the story. I have seen instances where Sinhala translations of foreign plays had elements from the Sri Lankan socio-cultural milieu inserted, to give a more localised peppering to the audience.

Jagath Chandrasiri as the Petty Officer was a significant part of the comic drive and endeared himself to the audience with his dim-witted policeman role. In general, I would say all the players did a commendable job on stage.

This is a play that offers a good dose of entertainment although the vein of comedy takes off into a pulsating drive somewhat towards the middle of the story.

Bandara’s character, a maverick con artist, manages to get off the interrogation he is hauled in for at the outset, and then begins to plot his course of anarchical misdemeanour for the greater good of the people, against the oppressiveness of the police force, by posing off as a Magistrate conducting a judicial inquiry into the suspicious death of a man who died while in police custody, officially said to have jumped out the window to his death while being interrogated on an upper floor of the police headquarters.

The twists and turns of events that unfold are hilarious and also subtly indicative of the misdeeds the authorities attempt to cover up and from which they try to escape accountability. The pivotal importance of ‘evidence’ to prove the guilt of an accused through the legal system and how justice can be doctored by the manipulation of evidence through ‘manufacturing of evidence’ is a critical debate in our times, when the criminal justice system is widely criticised by the public, and faith in the system is being brought into question.

This is a play where chaos is created through comedy and vice versa. But through the laughter one finds the sting of the crucial socio-political criticism come through. Justice depends on who handles it.

The end presents a chaotic scenario where the dilemma of whose life is worth sacrificing and whose life is expendable takes on a debate of human values versus political ideals.

A production consisting of commendable acting talent, good stagecraft, make up and costumes, ‘Saakki’ directed by Nimal Chandrasiri must be applauded as a Sinhala translation of a play by an internationally celebrated master playwright.