come from Down Under
By Renuka Sadanandan
Ernest MacIntyre, a name synonymous
with the English theatre revival in the ’60s and early ’70s
plans to stage two of his plays in Colombo for the 50 year celebrations
of the Lionel Wendt theatre.
write about plays to be staged in December when it's only July,
you may quite logically ask. Ah, but when the plays concerned are
productions by a famous name in theatre circles, albeit all of three
to four decades ago, it's reason enough.
moved to Sydney, Australia in 1973 and what will bring him back
to Colombo, cast and all for a special run is the celebration of
fifty years of the Lionel Wendt theatre. It's a place that has a
hold on MacIntyre for it was in that halcyon era in the sixties
and early seventies that he was part of an English theatre revival
that is still talked about today.
Wendt festival which opens this month with a performance of Nrithanjali
by the Chitrasena Vajira Dance Foundation will end with two of MacInytre's
plays. The grand finale? "No, I wouldn't call it grand, it's
just the finale," he demurs.
of people want to come and pay tribute to the place that gave them
so much," says MacIntyre, pointing out that he was all of 37
years when he left the island's shores. By that time, he feels,
your ‘body and mind’ is set and you cannot become a
foreigner, however long you may live abroad. Moreover, migration
too is not what it was in the old days. "No longer does it
mean a six-week long ocean voyage on a P&O liner," he laughs.
“So coming and going is easy, the connections still very much
In the intervening
years, despite a full-time career in re-insurance, a field not very
familiar to Sri Lanka, as MD of Wills Faber, Sydney, he never lost
touch with the stage. How did he find the time? Comes the answer
pat, "If you are deeply interested in something, you'll always
find the time."
At the Wendt,
back in the sixties, he started off stage managing a production
of Cole Porter's 'Kiss me Kate' and then went on to direct Death
of a Salesman, the Caucasian Chalk Circle and as readers of an older
vintage will recall, even Chitrasena in Othello, revelling in his
multiple roles as actor, director and most importantly playwright.
But that was
another world. At the Wendt in December, MacIntyre will present
two of his own plays, He Still Comes From Jaffna and The UN Inspector
is a Sri Lankan.
He Still Comes From Jaffna or The Novelist and the Terrorist was
inspired by E.F.C. Ludowyck's
classic He Comes From Jaffna and a piece that ran in the Island
which lamented the passing of a generation reared on the Western
classics and an era where the Sinhalese and Tamils were bound by
a common link, the English language.
play set in more modern times tells of a Colombo Tamil family and
their 'intellectual' adopted daughter Maya whom they're looking
to marry off to a bridegroom they have found through the Internet.
Pathmanathan is a seemingly well-connected young man from Toronto,
or so they think. In reality he is a terrorist, and in this complex
interplay of reality and fiction, is MacIntyre's master touch.
The UN Inspector
is a Sri Lankan, MacIntyre's most recent effort written especially
for the Wendt is derived from Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector
and inspired by the events in Iraq. It is set in the fictional Republic
of Boomisthan (‘plenty of boomithel’) where a corrupt
government is looking to cover up their misdeeds before the arrival
of a UN inspector, travelling incognito. Boomi officials mistake
a Lankan civil servant holed up in the Bhoomisthan Hilton for the
weapons inspector. The man himself is unable to return home because
his government is waiting to nab him over some shady deals and so
does not enlighten them, using his acting ability to pull off the
Both plays will
be staged with a cast MacIntyre brings down from Australia, including
his younger brother Gandhi and other stalwarts like Daya Gonsalkorale
and Sunil de Silva, P.C, former Attorney General as well as Devika
de Souza, daughter of Doric. Joining them with just a minimum of
rehearsals is Iranganie Serasinghe who goes back to the old Wendt
days with MacIntyre.
That was a
charmed circle when thespians of the stature of the late Karan Breckenridge
etc held sway. 'The best part of it was that there was this great
fusion of English and Sinhala drama,' says MacIntyre recalling the
likes of Dhamma Jagoda, Namel Weeramuni, Henry Jayasena all united
in one dynamic flowering of artistic endeavour. "We all acted
in each other's plays."
applied to do my M.A in drama in New South Wales, I found I could
sail through the work because of the experience I had had at the
Wendt. The groundwork had already been done," he says. The
added impetus was perhaps that his plays like 'The Education of
Miss Asia,’ 'Rasanayagam's Last Riot' and ‘Let's Give
Them Curry' have been included as texts in the Australian school
and University curriculum and are also local school and University
always loved to teach and regular stints at the University of Singapore
have kept him coming to the region. Lecturing at Peradeniya, Colombo
and Kelaniya has given him great satisfaction and during his last
visit here in March he ventured to both the Batticaloa and Jaffna
Universities. Despite the hardships of war, he was amazed to see
drama still vibrant in the 'koothu', the traditional satire/comedy
Maybe now, hopefully
as the war may not restart, the repository of knowledge and experiences
among Sinhala and Tamil writers will come out in good plays, he
muses. After all, works like the Caucasian Chalk Circle and Mother
Courage were all produced in the aftermath of war.
MacIntyre as he prepares for his return to the Wendt would most
love to see is the theatre school revived. "It was there in
the 1970s and so many like Parakrama Niriella, Ravindra Randeniya
trained there. Now there's no place where an actor can learn the
basic craft. Mind you it was all free, funded by the Wendt and the
best people were brought in to give of their expertise." Food
for thought indeed, as the curtain rises on the celebration of 50
years of the Lionel Wendt this week.