Last of the great Sinhala dramatists
The Henry Jayasena creativity On stage
1962: Janelaya and Kuveni
1964: Tavat Udesanak
1965: Manavarjana Vedavarjana
1966: Ahas Maliga
1967: Hunuvataye Kathava
1968: Apata Puthe Magak Nethe
1972: Diriya Mava saha Ege Daruwo
1975: Sarana Siyoth se Puthun Hamba Yana
1978: Siri Sangab
1983: Jayathu Lanka Silver screen
1959: Gahanu Gata, Sri 296
1963: Gamperaliya, Vena Svargayak Kumatada and Suhada Sohoyuro
1964: Heta Pramada Vadi
1968: Dahasak Sithuvili
1980: Hansa Vilak
1981: Beddegama, Soldadu Unnahe
1984: Ammai Duwai (Raththaran Neth)
1988: Sandakada Pahana
Henry Jayasena is dead. I heard the devastating news as I reached
Lake House last afternoon. I wanted to weep but I couldn't muster enough
tears; they had dried with old age. I lost a dear old friend but his
loss was greater to the arts of this country.
Playing his maiden role in Hunuwataye Kathawa
Although he was not moulded in the hallowed Shakespearean traditions
he stood tall on the Sinhala stage in the poor modest unsophisticated
Lumbini Theatre on Havelock Road and he extricated from the impoverished
Sinhala audiences a warm response, for he was a classical dramatist and
a superb actor.
He was often spoken in a manner somewhat effeminate but he would
explode like Brando if the character he was portraying demanded a
certain degree of toughness. He did so as a drunk in Titus Totawatte's
brilliant film Handaya. He was a lovable drunk with Joe Abeywickrama in
Soldaduwa a typically unconventional film. We were aghast with fear the
cinema world was typecasting him as an alcoholic. But fortunately Henry
Henry's great forte was the stage, the theatre and he knew it. For
some time he discarded film roles and stuck to the theatre. His
brilliance shone on the stage and he knew it and exploited himself
With Kuveni and Hunuwataya Henry proved his dramatis personae
elegantly and he had gone out of the millieu of Shakespeare, Brecht was
secondary. Henry was first rate Sinhala power drama. His style lay in
the stylized Sinhala plays; he infected a special poetic art to the
traditional Sinhala theatre or Natya, the poetry that emerged through
folk drama and the marrying of Sinhala verses/ and prose musicalled by
the ancient kavi and Samudra Gosha. Henry was at centre stage acting but
the song was there behind the scenes vibrating and humming.
A Scene from Gamperaliya
His was great theatre and he stood out splendidly. Henry would have
winced at these comments for he was a self-effacing man. But this is a
fact of art.
Henry and I were together at Siri Aiya's Lama Theeraya in the old
Radio Ceylon down Cotta Road. Henry came in for the Friday 45 minute
live broadcast with Trilicia Gunawardena. He had a Dilip Kumar hairstyle
and was Siri Aiya's matinee idol. When I met him last at his modest home
at Nugegoda we talked about Siri Aiya. Henry outstretched his arms and
said 'This is all Siri Aiya'. He had just recovered from a bout of colon
cancer; he had suffered anguishly. Of course his wife Manel was by his
side nursing him faithfully.
Recalling his ordeal he confessed to me ' I don't wish even my worst
enemy to go through this chemotherapy to cure him'. He was O.K. But in a
few years Manel died of womb cancer. It was paradoxical.
Manel who had laboriously reproduced Kuveni almost single handed
predeceased him. Henry was inconsolable. On the national TV Henry broke
down. It was pathetic. So long Henry. I am keeping a copy of Kuveni you
gifted to me with the inscription... 'Remembering old times'.
His life in a nutshell
Henry Jayasena was born in Bandiyamulla, Gampaha. He was educated in
Lorenz College, Gampaha and Nalanda College, Colombo. He started off as
an English teacher at the Dehipe Primary School in Nuwara Eliya in 1950.
He later entered the General Clerical Service Examination and was
posted at the Public Works Department of Sri Lanka. He retired as the
Deputy Director for the National Youth Services Council (Programs
Being a famous performer in films, Jayasena has many films to his
credit: Sri 296 (1959), Gamperaliya (1964) and Dahasak Sithuvili (1968)
are a few. Dr. Henry Jayasena was more famous as Sudu Seeya in Doo
Daruwo telecast in the early 1990s.
"Henry Jayasena was a strange man with no stone unturned in every
field of arts in Sri Lanka. He professionalized himself as an all
rounder to all kinds of art as a translator, original writer, theatre
director, theatre actor, film actor, children's writer, poet, lyric
writer, broadcaster and more.
He was an indigenous conscious man in his artistic works though his
studies of aesthetics involved in modern techniques of his time.
He himself described his career in a column in Daily News Artscope,
which was later published as 'The Play is the Thing'. He was a man of
vast horizons in art and life. He was a very serious actor with various
To me he is an actor even more than Gamini Fonseka, because he was a
method actor of Stanislavski style."
"I think he is one of the greatest actor ever, whether it be on stage
or film, he can never be replaced. His contribution for almost half a
century is unique. When you take his maiden Hunuwataye Kathawa, it will
come shoulder to shoulder with any drama compared internationally. It's
highly reputed and he created a revolution in the field of drama.
He is a super class film actor, writer, poet and an excellent
translator. It's very rare to find someone with so many talents and
someone who dedicated his whole life to the development of the art. "
"I think he was actually one of the most sensitive, childish,
talented persons Sri Lanka has ever had. My husband and I are both are
lucky to have known him and worked with him. Specially, Gam Peraliya, I
was amazed with the way everything was done.
It's a terrible loss, I'm really sad and I'm sure the whole nation is
to. But it is enevitable. I think the last few years he lived with Manel,
his life long partner were the best and after losing her, in a way he
was not happy and now the person who feel the most emptiness in his life
will be his son Sudaraka who was always a devoted son.
Lets hope he will have the strength with the memory of his parents.
He is one irreplaceable human being who was gentle, caring, fairly
bashful not brash. We known him from his younger days and we grew old
together. May he attain Nibbana!"
"He is one of the best actors I have met. He's really a knowledgeable
person and a real good human being and a real mahattaya."
"Jayasena was a natural actor with a superb vibrating voice and a
great stage presence, a director of creative ability, a simple writer of
great depth and a deep man who talked sense.
While production-wise Hunuwataye Kathawa is his best adapted
play,Kuweni is his greatest original," praised Weeramuni, adding that an
American critic who had seen Hunuwataye Kathawa hailed it as one of the
most powerful plays he had seen anywhere. Henry was also a very gracious
person and a very fair critic of other people's work."
Criticism on Henry's plays
"The way he adapts Oscar Wilde's creativity to the Sinhala stage is a
little hard for the general Sinhala audience to grasp. Its
characterization is at its best."
"Its deep dramatic quality makes it invaluable. Especially with its
traditional drum style. It is meaningful."
"Its new form brings out an academic sense."
"Plays like these are the epitome of Sinhala traditional drama
"It offers so many things for the budding play artistes to learn"