Wednesday, 27 February 2013


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IMAGINE! inside Irkutsk

One of the first playwrights to have an audience in the West, Alexei Arbuzov penned a number of plays. ‘It Happened in Irkutsk’ was his most successful play. Set up in a labour working field, the plot progresses as different types of bonds gradually grow among the labourers. Arbuzov weaves the plot, driven by Communist ideals, giving emphasis to the need of an idealist society. Ranjith Dharmakeerthi, whose Sinhala production came alive in the late 1970s as ‘Angara Ganga Gala Basi’, brings in a fresh production to reinterpret Arbuzov.

Q: How do you link Alexei Arbuzov’s Russian philosophy on the local society?

A: Arbuzov appears in the middle of the 20th century. This is when Russians were gradually experiencing the advent of film and television.

So he had to cater to an audience with advanced taste buds. Just like his contemporaries, Arbuzov had to work on new techniques and strategies on stage play.

At the same time he could witness a downfall of the society. Technology was developing but the morals were flowing on the reverse.

The society needed a great human being. Simply speaking, Arbuzov hoped for a better communist set up.

His challenge was to fuse this thinking into his work without letting the audience get bored. He overcame it by giving emphasis to human relationships.

Angara Ganga Gala Basi new production Ranjith Dharmakirthi’s
2013 production of ‘Angara Ganga Galaa Basi’ will be staged at the Lionel Wendt on February 27 and 28 at 6.30 pm

The play takes place in a working field. There are filial relationships. Some in fact fall in love with each other. We had a similar environment in the 1970s.

Most plays were focused on conveying the message more than the aesthetic quality. That’s why I wanted to have Arbuzov’s on the local stage.

Q: You stayed off the stage for a long period. Why?

A: First the stage was no longer the place for classical literature. Second, the proper appreciation got lost.

Third, actors were leaving us for the television. So I could not see any reason to stay on the stage any more.

Q: Are you happy with the today’s theatre culture?

A: Not really. But we can see positive features. My friend Jayalath Manoratne said a considerable crowd is coming to watch stage plays.

That means one thing. Even despite this high technology, people still have patience to come to a theatre and watch for an hour or two. That’s a good thing.

In fact I recommenced ‘Angara’ project because of Prasannajith Abeysooriya’s continuous request. He was quite positive that we could go a long way.

Q: And why ‘not really’?

A: Mainly because I do not think all the plays are good enough. They lack depth. Holistically I cannot be happy with today’s drama culture.

Q: Any modifications to the 2013 production?

A: Of course, yes. The society is different. I have given different interpretations. It is sort of experimental. But the text remains same. So is Maestro Khemadasa’s music. Apart from that, this production has a fresh cast. Some actors are chosen from the ‘Kavitha’ programme. I started this as a three-month workshop.

Q: With more sophisticated media such as television and film, do you think stage drama will flourish?

A: It will, as long as it is alive! You cannot cheat your audience. The audience likes it too. For instance in ‘Angara’, I have employed Aristotelian structure, Brecht’s epic form and Greek drama style. Sometime the audience is questioned.

At times the audience has to listen to what the cast says. You cannot do such things on more sophisticated media.

Q: How was Maestro Premasiri Khemadasa’s music useful?

A: It was immense. He had a good command of both eastern and western music. And above all, it was a wonderful experience. Together with my lyricist Ajantha Ranasinghe, I used to visit the Maestro’s place. Now this is early in the morning, the moment when his creative mood is at its hype.

T M Jayaratne comes too and our initial practices begin.

Ranjith Dharmakeerthi

Maestro murmurs alone with no interruption. The next moment he wants Ajantha to change either a word or a line. Sometimes he wants me to spell out the subtext.

So that was a wonderful period. I am especially grateful to the Khemadasa family to make things easier.

We could obtain a DVD of his music thanks to Rupavahini Corporation Chairperson Mohan Samaranayaka.

Q: You have been in the book industry in between, with your own publishing company. Do you think the books have a better audience than television and stage?

A: It is like this. According to a certain British research team, 1930 saw a large attraction to the television, as it just arrived.

But it had died away over time, as it lacked the live quality of the stage.

The standards went down. The books withstood all these trends: television, film and so on.

I have been with my publishing company, Sakhila, for 14 years. My experience with the BMICH Book Fair, I know the books have a fairly good audience.

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