A murder well executed
Murder In The Cathedral. A play produced and directed by Haig Karunaratne based on a poetic drama by T.S.Eliot. Reviewed by Wilfred Jayasuriya
The Canterbury Cathedral was the site in which Thomas Becket, the Archbishop appointed by the Pope in the time of King Henry the Second, was murdered by knights loyal to the King. This happened in the 12th century, well before the Protestant Reformation, in the beginning of the 16th century, when the King became the head of the church.

At the time of the murder there was a power struggle between the King and the Church, which was ruled by Rome and the Archbishop owed a dual loyalty to both. The ruling by Christ “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’ was and is not always clear in application. The current interpretation of the Protestant Reformation in England is that it was primarily motivated by the desire to seize the monastic properties. Becket was canonised as a martyr and became the most English of all saints. Chaucer, the first great English writer wrote his Canterbury Tales, in the 14th century, using a pilgrimage to the saint’s tomb as the framing device to describe his view of English life. Chaucer writes his account in verse form but it is not concerned with the story of Becket. Subsequently, Shakespeare and other Renaissance dramatists wrote drama in blank verse but writing drama in blank verse ceased after them.

It’s long after that, that T.S.Eliot used blank verse to present a drama which had authentic and emotionally charged content to drive it along. We may compare him to Sarachchandra in his attempt to resurrect an old form. Though Sarachchandra was able to create a new form of stylised drama with powerful content and song and dance and a chorus, Eliot’s attempt, though remarkable in itself, did not create a new or resurrected tradition. Modern English drama rarely uses blank verse. But both Eliot and Sarachchandra use the device of the chorus very effectively.

In the play “Murder in the Cathedral,” two strong characters are pitted against each other. The King expected the Archbishop to toe his line because he had got the Archbishop appointed by the Pope. A similar situation occurred later in the matter of King Henry the Eighth and Thomas Moore and Cardinal Wolsey and in our own life time in the conflict between President Jayewardene and Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon. Friends become enemies when their roles change.

This is the historical background to the play. In the production staged at the Lionel Wendt theatre on July 30 and 31, the characters involved were the King and the Archbishop, three priests loyal to Becket and four knights loyal to the King and the common people, who form the chorus. Thus the play can be diagrammed in the dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, the chorus providing the synthesis after the clash of the thesis and the antithesis. The Archbishop lies dead in the last scene and the murder was effectively dramatised with the gruesome event shown as a ritualistic event. The four knights walk round and round the Archbishop, stabbing him and killing him in a dance of death, hiding the actual murder from the audience.

Such masking of a horrible scene was skilfully achieved by Alfred Hitchcock in the film Strangers On A Train. The girl who is murdered is shown often wearing a particular pair of glasses and when the murderer kills the girl, at a carnival, the actual murder scene is filmed as a reflection in the glasses, as they lie on the ground, giving the act of murder a poetic cover.

Similarly, the murder of Becket was transformed into poetic movement by the choreography created by the director. That was his most outstanding achievement. The movement of the chorus on the stage as participants in the action was also well choreographed and visually meaningful. But the audio effect was somewhat blurred sometimes. The individual performance by Terry Fernando, depicting Becket himself, stood out by its power and dignity.

The four knights led by Denninton Subasinghe made themselves heard and understood very clearly, while mouthing the superb verse and prose of T.S.Eliot. Their body language supported the words they spoke very effectively. The three priests were counterpoints to the Archbishop, expressing human fear in contrast to the Archbishop’s fearlessness and resolution. Their physical movements always supported the feelings they depicted in words. These performances were high acting events.

The director, Haig Karunaratne, has adapted the poetic verse drama of T.S. Eliot to be more easily grasped by a Sri Lankan audience, which could be assumed to be sympathetic to the theme but which needed to be provided with information, which was already available to an English audience i.e. the history of England and of Canterbury. He has introduced an extra scene showing Henry the Second, in a drinking session with the four knights, where the King tells the knights about getting rid of Becket. He also changed Eliot’s chorus of women to a chorus of pilgrims, which makes it more appropriate to the action. Haig Karunaratne has emphasised the drama and the action on stage as against thinking of Eliot’s play as a reading or listening exercise, and thereby made the play more effective. It is an experience which comes through visually and aurally as against a purely cerebral experience.

The theme of “Murder in the Cathedral” as presented in Eliot’s play is martyrdom. That the church was built on the blood of martyrs is a known theme in church history. The last speech of the chorus proclaims it as it bemoans the dead Archbishop. The historical perspective is summarised in W.B.Yeats’ “Two Songs from a Play”

In pity for man’s darkening thought
He walked the room and issued thence
In Galilean turbulence;
The Babylonian starlight brought
A fabulous, formless darkness in;

Odour of blood when Christ was slain
Made all Platonic tolerance vain
And vain all Doric discipline
The recent turn of events in Sri Lanka as well as in other countries like Indonesia has sounded a drum to awaken the church to the possibility of martyrdom. Martyrdoms are always seen as bizarre results of brainwashing by those who inflict it.

As the last knight says, in his speech by the dead body, after the preceding speeches have echoed some of the gimmicks of funeral oratory practised by Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” the real issue is “Who killed the Archbishop?” A question analogous to “Who killed Cock Robin?” The audience watches the murder but one of the murderers, himself asks the question, from the audience. Why didn’t the Archbishop hide himself knowing well that the killers were after him? The answer is that he wanted to be killed.

The mystery of a human act is brought into focus, but what the setting in the cathedral and the final speech from Becket proclaim is that this is not a “mere murder” but a death which has more resonating significance for the living than an “ordinary death”. If the Archbishop wished to be killed it was because he found more meaning in it than if he wished to live as King Henry the Second wanted him to live. Are the “suicides” of the “terrorists” similar? Are they also Beckets? As annoying a question, no doubt, as the one asked by the knight.

Spreading the sounds of the Cello
By Tharangani Perera
A dedicated music teacher who has more fire in her soul than most 18 year olds, Savitri Jayatileka is passionate about the cello, which has been an integral part of most of her life. When she speaks of it, her whole face lights up and her eyes begin to sparkle. Having been a professional cellist for three decades, she now commits herself to teaching music.

Savitri first learned music at home; she and her sister were both taught to play the piano by their mother Lavinia, who was a talented music teacher herself. She was next taught music by Mother Mary Therese, an Irish nun at the Holy Family Convent in Bambalapitiya. There, Savitri qualified with L.T.C.C. and L.R.F.M. Teacher’s Examination in piano.

After realizing that the cello had the closest tone to the human voice, Savitri became deeply interested in learning to play the cello. Under the guidance of Mrs. Averill Bartholomew, she was qualified with the L.T.C.C. Performers’ Examination in Cello, after which she joined the Symphony Orchestra of Colombo (SOC), where she played for approximately three decades. She was also the principal cellist for the SOC from 1973 until she left the orchestra in 1996.

Savitri has represented Sri Lanka in the World Orchestra three times in the three decades that she has played for the SOC, all three events which she describes as unique and enriching experiences. While devoting all her time these days to teaching musically talented youngsters to play the cello and the piano, she makes certain that these youngsters are trained not only for examinations, but also for concert performances.

Her students, most of whom are regular prize winners spend a lot of time and energy on their rehearsals at Savitri’s home and the demanding sessions are punctuated by regular pizza breaks and watching old concerts on DVD, as Savitri feels that entertainment is necessary for any growing child.
“Homage to the Cello III”, Savitri’s third concert performed by her prize students, is aimed at being a learning experience for them as well as an opportunity to display their musical talent to the public.

It will take place at the Kings Court Ballroom of Trans Asia Hotel on Sunday, August 14 at 6.30 p.m. The orchestra of the 14 young cellists will be led by Oshan Gunawardena with the assistance of his deputy leader, Sasini Chandrasinghe. Hansala Mannanayake, Gayanika Jayasuriya, Purnima Jayasuriya, Shamistha de Silva, Dinethri Gunawardena, Havindhi Mannayake, Sanjaya Attanayake, Charlini Alles, Chrishani Newton, and Bhanuka Fernandopulle. Chandrishan Alles will be on the double bass, with the accompaniment of Savitri on the piano. The orchestra will be conducted by Rivi Ratnaweera.

The purpose of this concert will be spreading the musical message of the cello and its scope in Sri Lanka. Light music will feature mainly Chopin, Schubert, Johann Strauss and Weber will be given primary focus by the whole orchestra while the solo performances will feature pieces by Bach, Greig and Handel. Ensembles by Handel and Boccherini will also be another highlight in the show. Entrance to the show is by invitation only.

They were all aboard at the Kala Pola
By Randima Attygalle
The ‘Yakada Yaka’s usual roar was replaced by more festive sounds at the Slave Island Railway Station on Sunday, July 17. Platforms bustling with passengers on an average working day were taken over by multi-hued masses of landscapes, abstracts and human passion.

One could almost forget the sheer existence of a railway station…instead it was a feast for the art lover among oils on canvas, acrylic on paper, water colours and carvings.

A joint effort by the George Keyt Foundation and John Keells Holdings, the Kala Pola marked its 13th year at the Slave Island Railway Station, deviating from its traditional venue of the pavements of Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha. The platforms of the Slave Island Railway Station, the adjoining pavements and the car park opposite Elephant House showcased this artistic event.
A testing ground for the efforts of both the amateur and the professional, Kala Pola’s message of ‘opportunity for art’ was well represented, with artists from all corners of the island flocking to Colombo for the occasion.

Soothing melodies from a flautist and pulsating baila harmonized with diverse tones and moods expressed while veralu and kevum ammes added a flavour of festivity.

For N. Shanaka, a third year medical student whose passion is art, Kala Pola is a ‘platform of learning’. “For me Kala Pola is not merely a ground for selling my paintings, but a great opportunity to interact with artists from all over the country and learn the finer points of the art,” said Shanaka. Although it was Shanaka’s maiden experience at Kala Pola, he nevertheless proved ‘his colours’ with several paintings of Radha and Krishna, Nala Damayanthi – princes and princesses from Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

Meditation and fire, was the theme chosen by Sudharman Ranjith, whose sculptures of wood, bark and tree trunks mirrored the discord of the human mind. An interesting sculpture of a woman’s torso with a smiling face and a mind of flames, titled Sinha kanthawa (lion lady) was a symbol of the average local woman according to Sudharman. “ Most of our women, although they put up a brave front and a smiling face endure a lot, bearing children, running a family and at the same time being subject to harassment. My work is a tribute to such women,” smiled Sudharman.

Busy peeling ambarella and serving many customers, Nalini who had come all the way from Negombo for Kala Pola, greeted me with a broad smile. “It’s very exciting to be here. Paintings, music and of course, veralu, ambarella and other sweet meats make it a real pola,” she said smiling.

Then a train arrived with a screeching noise, drowning out the rocking baila beats while its passengers waved and craned their necks to get a glimpse of the activity on the station.

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