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Anoja's role as 'Mother Courage'

DRAMA: Henry Jayasena's landmark Sinhala adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's seminal anti-war drama, "Mother Courage and Her Children," with a cast largely comprising tsunami affected youth, will go on the boards at the end of March 2006 at the Lionel Wendt. The play will feature award-winning veteran screen and stage actress Anoja Weerasinghe in the lead.


A different mood: Anoja Weerasinghe Picture by Tennyson Edirisinghe

The play will take place at the Wendt from March 31 to April 2. Brecht's play follows the story of Anna Frieling, nicknamed 'Mother Courage', a clever, devious canteen woman with the Swedish Army determined to make her living from the war. Over the course of the play, she loses all three of her children, Swiss Cheese, Eilif, and Kattrin, to the same war from which she sought to profit. It is one of nine plays that Brecht wrote in an attempt to counter the rise of Fascism and Nazism. Following Brecht's principles for political drama, the play is set during the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 and not in modern times.

The play, directed by Sue Weston and produced under the banner of Anoja Weerasinghe's Abhina Academy of Performing Arts is sponsored by HSBC. HSBC teamed with Weerasinghe's Abhina Foundation last year to sponsor and help run a series of psycho-social drama workshops, where the veteran actress and her group toured all parts of the island, running theatre-based workshops for those traumatized by disaster and conflict.

Workshops were held in the South, East and West of Sri Lanka at 10 centres which drew crowds of children and youth, who were given constructive tools with which to deal with loss, grief, trauma and anger through drama, showing them a road to inner healing and peace through drama therapy and performance art, effectively giving them catharsis through theatre.


BRIEFING: Anoja Weerasinghe addressing the press conference. Musician Dr.Premasiri Khemadasa, Shiroma Jayawickrama, Public Affairs Manager of the HSBC, Daviel J.H. Griffiths, CEO of the HSBC and veteran dramatist Dr. Henry Jayasena looks on. Picture by Roland Perera

On witnessing these children and youth now, it is hard to imagine what they would have been going through, their road to healing through drama showing great promise. The workshops took place during a span of three months in the latter part of 2005.

From the large pool of potential talent that attended these workshops, Weerasinghe hand picked 21 of the most promising actors, and brought them to Colombo for an intense, advanced one-month workshop in December. As a culmination of this workshop, HSBC supported the Abhina Academy in the decision to stage a full length play, "Mother Courage and Her Children," in which the members of the workshop will be prominently featured.

For Abhina, this would be their second theatre project using tsunami-affected participants, the other being Edinburgh Festival award-winning "Children of the Sea," which is currently touring Sri Lanka following its successful run in Scotland.

In staging a full-length play like "Mother Courage," widely considered to be one of the most influential works of drama of the 20th century, Abhina and HSBC feel it would be a fitting way to expose the talented members of the workshops to theatre.

And in a gesture that could impact their future, it was decided that Anoja Weerasinghe herself take a role in the play, so they would have the chance of playing opposite a professional actor. Two other actors from the Sinhala theatre are also playing in "Mother Courage," giving the youth a chance to perform to their full potential on the same stage with an experienced professional.

It would also give mass audiences a chance to see the wealth of talent unearthed from the country's rural areas, and also befitting for the children and youth to be recognised for their talents on a wider platform than in their own village or town forums.

Sue Weston, Weerasinghe's own drama teacher at LAMDA to direct, the organizers felt would give the play the weight, high standard and treatment it deserved.

Anoja Weerasinghe's Abhina workshops proved ideal for bringing emotional and mental healing through drama to a large number of those affected by the mass destruction wreaked by the tsunami.

Speaking at a recent press conference held at the Galle Face Hotel to announce her latest attempt with the tsunami affected children, Anoja said: "Children of the Sea", the maiden drama I produced with the tsunami affected children forced me to make "Mother Courage and Her Children" as the second production of my Abhina Academy.

It is sad to note that most of those who dealt with the tsunami victims treated these unfortunates as those possessed of a 'begging mentality'. But really what they needed was love and encouragement to build their lives back and not compassion.

"Not only Sri Lanka but the whole world today is facing a war risk. I thought that this is the most suitable time to bring back "Mother Courage and Her Children" to the Sri Lankan audience, which was earlier produced by veteran dramatist Henry Jayasena", she said.

Veteran dramatist Henry Jayasena, offering his heartiest wishes and blessings to Anoja for her latest attempt said: "From Anoja's point of view, I am a Brecht specialist. But I am not so. However I have made two plays out of Brecht's books. When I was doing "Chalk Circle" (Hunuwataye Kathawa), there were two Germanies - West and East.

'There is enough war in this world'. This was the simple theory focused by Brecht through his plays and he observed it as a 'stupid' thing. However, he could not raise his voice for long as he was jailed by Hitler. During one of my visits to Germany I met, Brecht's wife Helen Wigel.

The role of Mother Courage was found by my wife Manel Jayasena. Since she is not living, I believe, Anoja may have done justice to the character played by her".


Mignonne in concert

MUSIC: A Celebration! - Mignonne in concert with friends Sunil Perera, Sohan Weerasinghe, Rukshan Perera, Ishan Bahar, Mariazelle, Yasmin, Shyami, Ronnie Soul Sounds & Soundari David and selected music personalities will be held on 25 March 2006 at 6.45 p.m.

The concert will include several of Mignonne's originals and popular hits from her CD 'A Celebration of Life' including the award winning version of Mangala Mohotha with Soul Sounds, RTHK Award winning 'Island Song', Jeevithe Vasanthaye, Den Nivadu Kale, Proud to be Sri Lankan, and a scintillating version of Bombay Mere Hai, Top Pops from the '60s (Jetliners Era) to the '80s consisting musical memories from the Coconut Grove with additional sparkle move on to the '70s and '80s faves from Mignonne, Sunil, Sohan, Rukshan, Ishan, Ronnie, Mariazelle, Yasmin, Shyami and Shehara & the Band, A 'first' on stage 4 Keyboard combination in 'Rhapsody in Blue' featuring Mignonne. Soundari David, Neranjan de Silva, and Sureka Amerasinghe Dylan Lye from Hong Kong on Lead Guitar, Aruna Siriwardhena and Christopher Prins on Drums, Neville - rhythm guitar Shobi Perera and Musty on Bass Guitar.

All that Jazz where Mignonne and her friends in Concert get into a cool comfort zone with Standards and Jazz faves specially arranged by her for the Concert with Kumar Molligoda on Tenor, Alto and Soprano sax, Exciting ethnic fusion in drum dialogue in images composed by Mignonne for the Asian Composer's League recreated on stage. Ethnic Flute from Sajeewa Gurusinghe and Dialogue between the Western Drum styling of Aruna and Ethnic Drums of Nesan Thaigarajah will also be featured.

Also an all cast fun-filled 'Celebration' - Stomp' Medley where Mignonne and her friends bring dance hits over the decades will be followed by a 'surprise' finale... For reservations call Damayantha 2873689/5362329


70th birth anniversary of Gamini Fonseka: The legend lives

COMMEMORATION: Had he been alive he would have completed the psalmist's lifespan of three score and ten. The Sinhala cinema is still to recover from the massive void left by his parting. Volumes have been written of his many deeds and performance on the silver screen.

But no amount of words can compensate for the ground-breaking role he played in steering the Sinhala cinema to unconquered heights. Whatever position that the Sinhala cinema has attained today is largely due to his influence.


LEGEND: Gamini Fonseka

He is still Sinhala cinema's uncrowned king, the Sakvithi the mantle of which no other actor can claim to wear. Although Gamini Fonseka is no more, his huge shadow still looms over Sinhala cinema like a benevolent genie guiding its destiny. His ever grateful colleagues and devoted fans are set to commemorate his 70th birth anniversary which falls on Tuesday, March 21.

In the continuing saga of the Sinhala cinema no doubt the name Gamini Fonseka will stand out as a shining beacon not just for his acting prowess and unique screen presence but for the watershed he wrought in the nascent Sinhala cinema.

There is no dispute that he was the catalyst which saw the Sinhala cinema break away from the South Indian straitjacket in those early days of the film industry. In this respect the speech made by JVP MP Wimal Weerawansa in Parliament bears relevance.

Speaking on the condolence vote on Gamini who was one time Deputy Speaker, the MP said that although the 1956 revolution changed many facets of Lankan society it barely touched the Sinhala cinema and it was only the advent of Gamini on the silver screen in the late 50s that vested the local cinema with a national flavour.

Elaborating further on the one time matinee idol, the MP said, Gamini was the first sinhala actor to strip off his garb and display his torso. This he did with a flourish that sent the gallery audience into raptures.

In a way this symbolised the role played by Gamini to strip the local cinema of its South Indian vestment in those early days when our local stars were mere caricatures of their South Indian counterparts.

The macho image fired the imagination of local film fans so much so he almost became an obsession with them. There were near riots on the release of a new Gamini Fonseka film and often the police were summoned to control the crowds in those pre-television days where the cinema was the sole medium of entertainment.

A little known fact about Gamini was that he was an out and out rebel and did not kowtow to dictator like producers who demanded obeisance from the stars and technicians and meted out shabby treatment to them. He stood up to their tyranny and fought for the rights of cinema artistes. Many stars who later went on to make it big in the cinema industry owe their success to this opening provided to them by Gamini whose screen daring slightly rubbed on his dealings outside it.

Gamini was also fortunate to have many would be stalwarts of the local cinema emerging at the same time of his launch and the influence of Dr. Lester James Peries played no small role in shaping the direction of Gamini's career. Films like Sandeshaya and Gamperaliya in which the duo collaborated are still considered as high watermarks of the local cinema.

But it was the Serendibs who launched Gamini to his eventual stardom with Ranmuthuduwa, Sinhala cinema's maiden colour film. The adventure packed film with daring underwater scenes set the tone for the heroic roles that was to follow and which he monopolised for over two decades. Crowds thronged in their multitudes at the box office smashers in the 60's which is still considered as the golden era of the Sinhala cinema.

He also made his mark as a director, his first venture Parasathumal winning many awards. Gamini's was a multifaceted character and the anecdotes surrounding him and other aspects of his life contributed to the legend. The characters he portrayed on screen had a ready resonance with the ordinary masses and it was inevitable that he entered the political field. His was a multifaceted role that extend beyond the silver screen.

His larger than life presence enveloped the entire gamut of the Sinhala cinema to the extent the Sinhala cinema and the name Gamini Fonseka was spoken of in the same breath.

Many strove to imitate Gamini on screen but only succeeded in exposing their limitations besides the colossus. This was put succinctly by his one time leading lady Anula Karunatillake during an interview following Gamini's death said she, "Sinhala cinemawe inne eka Chandiayai". (There is only one Chandia in the Sinhala cinema).

***

Gamini commemoration

TRIBUTE: A felicitation ceremony for the late film star Gamini Fonseka will be held on March 21. The ceremony is organised by the National Film Corporation Of Sri Lanka to mark the 70th birthday of the great star which is on the same date.

A portrait of the incomparable Gamini Fonseka would be unveiled at 10.00 am on that day at the corporation's artists' rest room by the Film Corporation chairman. The film 'Raja Dekma' in which Gamini Fonseka had starred will be screened at 10.30 am and 2.30 pm at the Tower Hall Maradana, on that day.

The film will also be screened at 6.00 pm under the patronage of Cultural and National Heritage Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana and the film corporation chairman. Many film stars are expected to be present at this show.


Walas Pawula at Lumbini

DRAMA: The latest children's theatre production 'Walas Pawula' (Bear Family) presented by the Lanka Children's and Youth Theatre Organisation (LCYTO) or better known as Play House in Kotte, the leading children's play producer in Sri Lanka, will be staged on 18th March at Lumbini Theatre at 3.30 pm and 6.30 pm.

Based on the fairy tale "The Three Bears and Goldilocks", the script has been developed adopting it to suit the local audience by veteran children's playwright and theatre director Somalatha Subasinghe who is also the founder chief of 'Play House' in Kotte.

'Walas Pawula' which has been an overwhelming success among all audiences, is directed and choreographed by Dr. Chandana Aluthge, an artiste of the new generation groomed at the Play House in Kotte.

'Walas Pawula' is a musical and the production style of the play has been developed so as to give the whole family an aesthetic journey of entertainment. Choreography, lighting, costumes, stage props, and music of the play have been carefully crafted to convey the children a sense of basic art forms and meaningful entertainment.

According to the director of the play, the production style of the play has been developed in a manner to inculcate in children a sense of pride in our own culture as well as to promote the importance of the institution of family and its values. The lessons of love, humanity and care for nature refreshingly presented in the play are thought provoking.

Tharupathi Munasinghe a national award winning musician, has composed music for the play while stage props and costumes are designed by Namal Jayasinghe and Kaushalya Fernando and Pujitha de Mel respectively.

'Walas Pawula' cast comprises Wishvajith Gunasekera, Sanjaya Hettiarachchi, Chamila Peiris, Lakmini Senevirathne, Niranjala Manjaree, Sharmain Gunaratne, Suresh Fernando, Mayura Kanchana, Nayomi Gunaratne, Chamila Priyanka, Aruna Jayasena, Pramood Edirisinghe, Dinuki de Silva, Pramudi Karunaratne, Hiran Abeysekera, Ishara Wickramasinghe, Champika Kannangara and a number of new actors trained at Play House in Kotte.

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