"Trojan Women" captivates a global audience in Delhi



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By Randima Attygalle


"When a man who takes a city includes in the general destruction


Temples of the high gods and tombs that honour the dead,


He is a fool: his own destruction follows him close" (Euripides)


The city of Troy - the land that nourished them is now in rubble, men killed, women raped and those ‘dead in soul’ about to be taken away as slaves by the Greeks. While Trojan women mourn their dead men and lament the loss of their home, Queen Hecabe watches the burning of her beloved Troy, her daughter Cassandra raped by the Greeks, her husband, her children and grandchildren dead. She awaits her fate as a slave to Odysseus.


The Trojan Women, the third tragedy of Euripides, one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, is not just a tragedy of his own countrymen, but a tragedy nudging our own memories of three decades of war here as well as those of Rwanda, Palestine, Syria and many more. As Euripides labored to bring home the message ‘there are no winners in a war’, so did Dharmasiri Bandaranayake in his production. As once observed by scholar Piyaseeli Wijegunasinghe, "the remarkable success of Bandaranayake’s production is due not only to the fact that it powerfully conveys the essential content of Euripides’ work, but also because the staging satisfactorily accomplishes the difficult task of generating in the minds of the spectators the mood and atmosphere contained in the original play."


A stimulating theatrical dialogue


Bandaranayake is no stranger to the Delhi International Drama Festival (Bharat Rang Mahotsav) organized by the National School of Drama, his productions Dhawala Bheeshana and Eka Adhipathi having made to the Festival in previous years. His production of The Trojan Women at the 16th Delhi International Drama Festival went on the boards on January 8 this year at Abhimanch Theatre, New Delhi before an audience that included literary critics, dramatists, students of theatre and journalists, enabling stimulating theatrical dialogue, as the veteran dramatist and film-maker pointed out.


The National School of Drama is one of the foremost theatre training institutes in the world and only one of its kind in India. Training in the school is highly intensive and is based on a thorough, comprehensive, carefully planned syllabus which covers all aspects of theatre with theory related to practice. As a part of their training, students are required to produce plays which are then performed before the public. The syllabus takes into account the methods of great theatre personalities who have shaped contemporary theatre in all its variety. The systematic study and practical performing experience of Sanskrit drama, modern Indian drama, traditional Indian theatre forms, Asian drama and western dramatic protocols give the students a solid grounding and a wide perspective in the art of theatre.


The 16th edition of the festival showcased 71 plays, drawn from 17 states in India and six countries. Among the six international plays, two Sri Lankan plays being honored is significant. Out of the eight local applicants, The Trojan Women and Buddika Damayantha’s Sindu Kirilli were picked to represent Sri Lanka. The rest were drawn from Israel, Poland, Germany and China.


Foremost anti-war play


"Even 25 centuries since its creation, The Trojan Women remains the most powerful and foremost anti-war play produced in the global theatre," believes Bandaranayake who produced it 14 years ago in 2000 as his contribution to the efforts to end the civil war which raged here while at the same time reminding the audience of the perennial truth of Euripides’ original play. This was also the answer to the question, ‘why The Trojan Women?’ posed by many who were privy to the production in Delhi at the ‘Meet the Director’ session.


"I staged Trojan Women at a very critical juncture of Sri Lanka’s contemporary history. By taking the universal truth of war and destruction espoused by Euripides through the powerful medium of drama to all corners of the nation, I wanted to make my contribution as an artiste to a society which required healing in all aspects."


Bandaranayake’s production also made history as the only Sinhala drama to reach the war-ravaged parts of the country including Vavuniya, Batticaloa, Trinco and Jaffna at the peak of war. "In Delhi I was questioned whether there were objections by Tamil-speaking audiences. The answer is `no’," smiles the dramatist whose one dream is to see The Trojan Women produced in Tamil. If a Tamil-speaking dramatist comes forward to produce it, the truth which transcends all regions and times will be doubly endorsed, believes Bandaranayake.


The play which is translated by Ariyawansa Ranaweera has the benefit of inputs from several other top names in the industry including Rathnasri Wijesinghe (lyrics), Rookantha Goonethilake (music), Jerome de Silva (choreography) and Wasantha Wittachchi (make up). Award winning artiste Anoja Weerasinghe portraying Hecabe, Neil Alles as Poseidon and Meena Kumari Perera as Cassandra have undoubtedly captured the imagination of the audience. The invitation extended to Anoja to conduct a workshop for students of National School of Drama in the aftermath of the play illustrates her compelling performance.


"Anoja, herself a political victim, gave life to Hecabe way back in 2000 when I first produced the play. She felt her own experience gave more feeling to her acting, sharing what she went through with the audience. It was a spine-chilling moment which enhanced her superb performance," says Bandaranayake who has been invited to produce a play with students of theatre in Delhi.


For Meena Kumari Perera, portrayal of Cassandra is the pinnacle of her stage career. "Since its maiden production, I have been playing this role for 14 years and I feel I do it better each time I give life to the Cassandra role," says Meena. The emotional chord she strikes through her portrayal projects what the play is all about and audience reaction testify to this. "Cassandra’s role is full of life and I believe I did justice to it because the response of the audience is always as positive as it was in Delhi," says Meena. ``Anoja’s excellence gave so much to the play.’’


Inspiration to the modern dramatist


Whether it is the savagery of the Greeks several centuries ago, or massacring of thousands of helpless women and children in Sri Lanka or Syria in recent times, Euripides’ condemnation of heroism in war remains uncontested, says Bandaranayake. "What happens in Syria today? Syrian war widows are staging The Trojan Women. Thousands of Hecabes and Cassandras are out there right now."


This veteran whose dramatic forte is classical adaptations believes that great theatre is already established within these genres and what is left for the modern dramatist is to be inspired by them. "I don’t subscribe to the popular notion that a dramatist has to do originals. There is so much to reap from great traditions of the theatre including our own classical genre and such masterpieces are true for all times. There is so much inspiration to be drawn from them. For instance the Rathupaswala tragedy can be immortalized along Henrik Ibsen’s great work of An Enemy of the People."


For the veteran dramatist who once more made a global audience sit on the edge of their seats, the journey to Delhi was not a smooth sail. "I wish to extend my sincere thanks to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, SriLankan Airlines and numerous other art-loving well wishers who pledged their support to make Sri Lanka proud," he said.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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