Dr Henry Jayasena - some personal reflections
Yet another shining star in Sri Lanka 's theatrical and cultural
firmament Henry Jayasena, popularly known as Sudu Seeya, passed away on
November 11 at Colombo South General Hospital . He was 78. His remains
were cremated at the Borella cemetery attended by a large gathering of
relatives, fans and friends.
Henry was born on 06th July 1931 at Bendiyamulla, Gampaha. He studied
at the Lorenz College, Gampaha and later at Nalanda College, Colombo. He
began his career as an Assistant Teacher of English at the Dehipe
Primary School in Nuwara Eliya district in 1950 where he directed his
first play Janaki. After passing the General Clerical Service
Examination, he secured employment with the Public Works Department of
I met Henry for the first time when he came one day in 1957 with
Gunasena Galappatty to see my caricature portrait exhibition presented
by the United States Information Service (USIS) in Colombo. That meeting
marked the beginning of a very dear and enduring friendship between us.
It also paved the way for my entry into the world of theatre when he
invited me to undertake stage décor, makeup and costumes for his play
Pawkarayo (1958) and Janelaya (1962), both produced with Colombo
University Sinhala Sangamaya.
Pawkarayo was staged at the King George Hall at Colombo University.
Henry introduced me to Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra when he came
to see the play. Sarachchandra instantly invited me to help him with the
make-up in Maname as it was then creating history at the Lionel Wendt
Theatre. This encounter began an adoring friendship with Sarachchandra.
He inspired me to undertake costume designing and make-up for his
Mahasara (first and second productions) Pematho Jayathi Soko, Maname
(second production) and Sinhabahu (second production) and be the
It all happened with Henry's introduction. Some semblance of
Serendipity as many beautiful things came to pass eventually in the
course of my association with the artistic community in Sri Lanka!
Henry married Manel Illangakoon in 1962 and I had the privilege of
being his best-man. A brilliant actress in her own right, both on stage
and in cinema, Manel passed away a few years ago leaving an
insurmountable loss in Henry's life. He grieved for her to his dying
day, fondly calling her Mage Manel ( My own Manel). In memory of the
love of his life, Henry established 'Manel Jayasena Health Care and
Educational Trust Fund' in Sri Lanka. They are survived by their only
Henry had a seismic impact on the Sinhala Theatre as an actor,
playwright, producer and writer. He was an elegant communicator equally
eloquent in both English and Sinhala. He was gracious, humble, always
moved with a dignified reserve.
In Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra's original production of Maname
(1956) Henry played the star role of Prince Maname along with Ben
Sirimanna. Trelicia Abeykoon was Maname Bisava. In Sarachchandra's
Hasthi Kantha Manthare (1961) I had the privilege of acting with Henry.
He took the role of King Udayana and I was the Senadhipathi with Ben as
King Chandappajjotha and Trelicia as Vasula Daththa.
He mesmerized the audience as he explored the mystique and majesty of
the Elephant Charm (Hasthi Kantha Manthare) set to the haunting music of
With the adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's 'Caucasian Chalk Circle' as
Hunuwataye Kathawa (1967) and his 'Mother Courage' as Diriya Mawa Saha
Agey Daruwo (1972) Henry introduced the dynamics of Bretcht's theory of
Epic Theatre and brought in a new and refreshing dimension to the
Henry's starring role as Judge Azdak in Hunuwataye Kathawa and his
cinematic performance in the award winning Gamperaliya as Piyal (1964)
and as Lalith in the film Dahasak Sithuwili (1968) brought out the very
best in Henry as a brilliant actor. He acted the main roles in
Hansavilak, Gehenu Geta, Kaliyugaya and Raththaran Neth. Sri 296, Vena
Swargayak Kumatada, Suhada Sohoyuro, Heta Pramada Vedii, Beddegama,
Sodadu Unnehe are other works where he performed as a supporting actor.
He was a catalyst in the birth of a profusion of dramatic works of
outstanding quality. Manamalayo (1953) Vedagathkama (1954) Atta Kumakda
(1955) Kuveni (1962) Thavath Udesanak (1964), Manaranjana Wedawarjana
(1965) Ahas Maliga (1966) Apata Puthe Magak Nethe (1968) Makara (1973)
Sarana Siyoth Se Puthuni Hambayana (1975) Jayathu Lanka (1983) are among
the other plays he wrote and directed. Henry was honoured by his
alma-mater Nalanda College in 2003 with the award of Nalanda Keerthi
Shri In 2004, he was awarded a Doctorate in Literature (DLit) by the Sri
Henry was in the forefront resurrecting the dying art of Sinhala
Theatre. He was the last link of a generation of artistes who along with
Sarachchadra, Gunasena Galappatty, Dayananda Gunawardhana, Dhamma Jagoda
and Sugathapala de Silva pioneered the cultural renaissance and ushered
in and sustained the Golden Age of Sinhala Theatre in Sri Lanka. Henry
was a genius, a beautiful man with a beautiful mind.
May I say adieu to the enchanting memory of our princely friend Henry
Jayasena in the same way as he wished us farewell when we parted company
on our last visit to see him in Sri Lanka: Sasara Wasana Thuru - Nivan