28th November 1999
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Kala Korner by Dee Cee

Bandula stages a comeback
Veteran playwright Bandula Jayawardena is 'in action' again. Best remembered for 'Bera Handa' , he produced seven plays in a short span of four years (1961-65). He continued his interest in theatre but moved away from production.

He has broken his silence with 'Swarnamali Natakaya' which he has written and co-directed (with veteran actor Nissanka Diddeniya trying his hand at direction for the first time). The backdrop for the drama being the building of the Ruvanveli Seya, he took the play to Anuradhapura for its maiden show. He staged the Natakaya on two days there - one day at the Anuradhpaura Madya Maha Vidyalaya and the next at the Raja Rata University. "It was an enthusiastic response," Bandula says.

Bandula stresses that his is not a historical play. "A re-interpretation to produce a play of contemporary relevance" is how he describes it. "I have also removed legendary matter that may sound implausible to modern ears and replaced it with inventions that seem logical within the context of the events of the play," he says in a programme note. 

He quotes the circumstances of Dutugemunu's death. Legend has it that a Naga maiden had fallen in love with the king and the Naga King decided to fulfil his daughter's desire by bringing her lover to the Naga world. Thus the warrior king dies of snake bite. Bandula has eliminated the mythical stuff and accepted the snake bite part of the story. "This makes one ask the logical question 'How was it that there was a snake in the royal palace?' The logical answer is that the creature had been introduced. The venom of intrigue is common in the homes of rulers and the serpent here, it is reasonable to believe, was introduced by conspirators who would profit by the king's death," he explains.

Bandula has also tried to look at the familiar characters afresh. King Dutugemunu's son, Saliya is not a playboy or a Romeo in Bandula's story. In his own words, Saliya knows what he is doing. He represents not popular Buddhism, but tries to live by the essence of the Buddha word. Bandula gets Saliya to utter words which convey the salient features in Buddhism - Karuna, Maitri, Upekkka. To Bandula, Asokamala (superbly portrayed by Dulika Marapana on the first night at Lumbini Theatre) is not a sentimental figure but a village lass of uninhibited innocence and natural behaviour, therefore unconventional, even rebellious at times.

Rare happening
Original plays are a rare commodity these days.There wasn't a single original at this year's State Drama Festival. Bandula is quite emphatic on the need for these if theatre is to move forward. "Original plays must form the mainstream of a nation's theatre for they reflect the soul of a people, their hopes, fears, anxieties, aspirations, in fact their total experience of life," he says.

Bandula has something interesting to say about the way the Cultural Affairs Ministry is promoting original plays. "At the State Drama Festival, there was not a single original play on the boards and the Deputy Minister of Cultural Affairs, Victor Suraweera, bemoaning the fact, declared that his Ministry would take all necessary steps to encourage the writing and production of originals. I made an application for production assistance for the present play, an original. Observing the right procedure, I went through the Chairman of the Drama Panel who replied sending a copy of a covering letter sent by him to the Secretary of Cultural Affairs, adding there were several other applications of this kind. The play is on the boards today, but I have still heard nothing from any of these authorities. Apparently the Ministry does not believe in carrying on unnecessary correspondence."

Big cast
Swarnamalee Natakaya' is a play with a big cast - over 50, with some playing several roles. They were a disciplined lot on stage. Among them were several experienced faces doing the main roles - Neil Alles (Dutugemunu), Nissanka Diddeniya (Saddhatissa) and Grace Ariyavimal (Viharamahadevi.) We always expect them to do well, and they did.

The pick of the evening, however, was Dayadeva Edirisinghe playing the difficult role of the blind Mahagadiya, head of his clan and father of Asokamala. He displayed his versatility both in voice and action, adapting perfectly to the different moods. Dulika Marapana played Asokamala well. She was lively, vigorous and active. Buddhika Roshanata (Suvandavalliya, Asokamala's younger brother) also showed much promise as a young actor.

Sarath Surasena's decor, Suwineetha Perera's costumes and Tharupathi Munasinghe's music added colour to the Natakaya. I wished it moved at a quicker pace. A little bit of editing would help. 

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