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