Lovina and Maitland’s love story, which touches on the rodi caste, colonial rule and the Mount Lavinia Hotel, is being brought to school drama and has been adapted to suit the audience. The drama, presented by Ladies’ College, Colombo, is based on the book Lovina by Mohan Raj Madawala, but also on facts gathered from the Mount Lavinia Hotel.
“By reading Mohan Raj Madawala’s book, I got an idea of the characters involved in the story. The cast was then taken to the Mount Lavinia Hotel, where they got the opportunity to see the tunnel that led to Maitland’s room and the experience gave them an understanding of their characters,” said the director of the drama, Vasana Doolwala Dharmadasa. She also handled choreography, script-writing and lyrics of Lavinia.
“I first gave students an idea about the rodi caste, their culture and how they were social outcasts. Through this explanation, they had an image of their characters and were able to improve them,” Dharmadasa said, adding that background details are important and even if some haven’t read the book, they would still know about the story and details important to the play.
The play, which will be staged on October 23, has a cast of 50 students and although not a musical, has seven songs through which the story of Lovina is told. Speaking about the cast and crew, Dharmadasa said, “The students are talented, so I had no issues with getting my ideas for the play across.” In fact, students seemed to have a great understanding of the Lovina-Maitland story and the characters they play.
Madawala’s book starts with Punna, Lovina’s great-great-grandmother and ends with Lovina. A story of five generations can’t be fitted into a drama and thus Lavinia will begin with the relationship between Pinchi, Lovina’s mother and of the rodi caste, and Alponsu, a Portuguese.
Lovina can be considered a controversial novel, especially when presented by a school drama society. Dharmadasa wasn’t unaware of this fact and spoke about how Lavinia highlights the Lovina-Maitland love story, but also focuses on other aspects of the story. Through the drama, Ladies’ College hopes to portray caste structure, culture and the social setting of the 1800s.
“Lavinia is a Ladies’ College production, but is mainly done by the school’s Sinhala Literary Society. Although a Sinhala play, through costumes and music, the colonial era and culture are portrayed by the characters,” Dharmadasa said. She added that music, which is handled by Sujith Gamage, isn’t strictly Sri Lankan or Western, but brings forth music of both worlds.
Due to school exams, holidays and other extracurricular activities, the cast hasn’t had as much time to practice. Rehearsals began in September, which gave them only a few weeks of practice before the big day. However, the students seem to perfectly balance their studies, extracurricular activities and practices well.
Shalini Corea, who plays Maitland in the play, explained how she has to balance sports, debating and being a prefect while also acting in the play. “It’s also my last term in school so it’s all worth it,” she added.
Speaking of the cast and crew, Dharmadasa said, “There were auditions but all students who wanted to be in the play were given parts. In fact, a few students asked me if they can join just two weeks before the day Lavinia will be staged, and they too have been given roles.”
The cast includes Himanshi Alahakoon playing Lovina, Shalini Corea playing Maitland, Thisakya Jayakodi playing Alponso, Mindula Bulumulla playing Punna, Dulinika Bulumulla playing Pinchi, Jayani Wellarage playing Pula and Senuri Pieris playing the Hulawaliya.
Due to time constraints and workload, the drama can only become a reality with the support and effort of various staff members who took over various aspects of the play. Dharmadasa explained that while she is the director of the play, other staff members helped with lighting, make up and costumes.
As a school that encourages students’ creativity and talents, Ladies’ College has also not limited school productions or activities to English. An annual Sinhala Day was held at Ladies’ College until a few years ago. Now a Sinhala Day is held every other year and in the years a Sinhala Day isn’t held, a Sinhala drama is presented. Sakunthala, another Ladies’ College production in Sinhala, was staged two years ago.
School dramas are not uncommon in Sri Lanka and with inter-house drama competitions in schools and inter-school drama competitions like Shakespeare Drama Competition, school students are given opportunities to be on stage. However, most school productions are in English and it is rarely that school drama productions are in Sinhala or Tamil.
“Through a Sinhala play, Ladies’ College is really breaking the idea that ‘Colombo schools’ only target the English drama audience,” Dharmadasa added.
She also thanked Principal Eesha Speldewinde and Vice Principal Deepika Dassanaike who have supported the team in every way and even arranged the visit to Mount Lavinia Hotel. Dharmadasa was grateful of their support.
Dharmadasa also thanked everyone who helped, especially Sujith Gamage (music), Wasantha Kumara (lights), Jagath Padmasiri (makeup), Nishantha Depp (sets) and Ravibandu Vidyapathi and Ms JoJo (costumes).
The cast and crew have clearly put in great effort and hope to bring forth a notable production. “The cast, crew and staff have worked really hard, made many sacrifices and have been extremely committed and so we want as many to watch and appreciate our play,” the cast said.
Shalini Corea (Maitland) and Himanshi Alahakoon (Lovina)
“We did a smaller version of Lovina for the inter-house drama competition and Lavinia will be in a larger scale. It’s a homegrown drama as Ms Wasana wrote the script. The main message of the drama is that everything is not certain and that caste and such divisions don’t matter, for instance with Punna, caste caused many tragic things,” the students said.
Shalini and Himanshi added that the cast of Lovina is similar to the Sakunthala cast and thus they know each other well. “We are like a family and know how to react and reach out to each other. There are so many people doing so many different things, but we all come together as one cast,” they said.
Senuri Pieris (Hulawaliya)
“The Hulawaliya is the leader of the rodi caste. It’s a male character and the language is different from what we are used to. We went to Mount Lavinia hotel and that helped me create an image of my character,” she said.
Jayavi Jayawardana, Sinhala Literary Society President
“This is the second big production by the Sinhala Literary Society. Two years ago, we presented Sakunthala for the 80th anniversary of the Society. With regard to Lavinia, Ms Wasana is very enthusiastic about it and, so is the cast. The Sinhala teachers always help us and so has Ms Chithrangani with dancing, and other staff members,” Jayavi said.
Speaking about the support of their parents, Jayavi said, “Our parents are very supportive. We have practices everyday and without them, we wouldn’t be able to get the act together.”
Mindula and Dulinika Bulumulla who play Punna and Pinchi respectively
“Punna is from a high-class family, but is forced to join the rodi caste and she brings up Lovina. Punna doesn’t tell her that Alponso is her father and even with Lovina’s relationship with Maitland, Punna gives her support. Punna is the oldest in the community, so even if they disagree with her, everyone listens to what she says,” the Bulumulla sisters said.
They explained their characters further by describing the setting and plot of the story. Once the rodi village in Kandy is burnt down, they move to Mount Lavinia. It is here that Lovina meets Maitland.
Thisakya Jayakodi (Alponso)
“Alponso is Lovina’s fathers. His relationship with Pinchi isn’t accepted although the rodi caste is aware of it. Alponso is the middle man in the Lovina-Maitland relationship and although Lovina is his daughter, Alponso can’t tell Maitland to end the relationship because Maitland is his superior,” Thisakya explained her character.
Speaking about play itself, Thisakya said that she has acted in both Sinhala and English plays before and it’s great that ladies’ College was presenting a Sinhala drama.