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Ananda College Colombo clinched the top awards at the 2017 Shakespeare Drama Competition. The Maradana boys emerged champions at the finals of the 44th annual inter school drama competition. The road to Shakes in 2017 began early around July. The process of gathering schoolboys was although quite slow, according to officials.
However, it was done through a gradual process, at the end of which, unlike previous years, the cast ended up having a sensational set of actors ranging from grades seven to 13. It also starred three of Ananda’s most senior actors, who returned to follow what they love, after their Advanced Level’s.

“The period up until mid-August was during which we tried out different plays and takes, until we set our course on William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. Even then, we took time between choosing on different excerpts to play with. One question we had in mind was whether to stick to the most clichéd approach and interpretation or to take on a fresh approach,” says Thilina Udayaratne who portrayed the role of Hamlet.

Ideally most ‘Hamlet’ performances are bound to contain the “O! That this too too solid flesh would melt” and “To be or not to be, that is the question” soliloquies. But, having a knack for it and with around 10 more days to go, having felt that the decided script was not “working out” for us, we changed the entire script and changed the scenes. This time the interpretation and plot of the play showcased the indecisiveness of The Royal Prince of Denmark, how he fails to decide one course of action, he says.

The play went on to depict the tragic masterpiece of the Bard intelligently bringing out the humour that was embedded within the lines of the excerpt. The performance at the semi-final which was praised by the judges for its originality and success in bringing out the true meanings of Shakespeare’s blank verse, made it through to the final of the competition, making it our fourth time in the final.

“Knowing that now we had to face an even bigger audience and stage, we expanded our set to suit the Bishop’s College stage. The finals was on October 1, 2017; a night of absolute glamour as two schools (Ananda and D. S. Senanayake College) took up ‘Hamlet’ while the other two (Wesley College and Maris Stella College) took up ‘Othello’.
The night’s performance started with perhaps the worst possible “quicksand” moment in the first scene itself, as title character Hamlet played by Thilina was faced with rather a difficult situation on stage, as Horatio played by Gavin Ranasinghe was unable to enter the stage on time. The stage being lit up started off with an illustriously having Thilina (Hamlet) at the corner of the stage, being powerless and weak, showcasing the shock of what he had just heard from his father’s ghost. This timeless moment was paused when he realised that Gavin (Horatio) was not on stage on cue. Nevertheless, it was the Malith Kulathilake’s (Marcellus) quick thinking that got them through the scene. The pause and interval was for around 40 seconds, and 40 seconds on stage seems like four hours, they claim.

“Malith’s attempt in taking Gavin’s lines materialised successfully, as it was laid out in a nice and smooth manner, which to our relief ended up not being noticed by the audience nor the judges. This thrilling start to the play gave the rest of the cast a boost in energy.”
Lakshitha Edirisinghe’s outstanding portrayal of Polonius, which helped him bag the award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at this year’s competition brought out most of the subtle humour in this dark play.

Thilina’s (Hamlet) and Lakshitha’s (Polonius) interaction and chemistry on stage was extravagantly vibrant and showcased their versatility, as they brought about a fantastic amount of energy and colourfulness into the play.

The wit and playfulness that they shared was taken through to the next few scenes of the play, until Ananda’s budding actors from grades 7 and 8 took to the stage as “The Players”, who not only reacted in a way that they were convincing, but also contributed to the energy of the main roles. The play’s end depicted Hamlet’s trouble and frustration in deciding his course of action as he vented out his despair and disgust with “I should have fatted all the region kites with this slave’s offal,” says Thilina.

With the final performance for the night (Hamlet by D. S. Senanayake College) concluding, it was time for the most anticipated phase of the night. Tanya Warnakulasuriya spoke on behalf of the vastly experienced judges for the finals, praising schools for their efforts in making the Bard’s work come to life on the Sri Lankan stage. After the distribution of individual awards, where Lakshitha Edirisinghe of Ananda College received the Rotary Club of Colombo North Challenge Shield for the Best Supporting Actor, the time dawned for the highlight of the finals.

Maris Stella College was announced as the third runners-up and D. S. Senanayake College followed them as the second runners-up. It was down to the last two; Ananda and Wesley. With a 31 point lead, Ananda College was proclaimed as the Champions of the 44th Inter School Shakespeare Drama Competition and the jubilant set of actors receiving the most coveted Thespian Challenge Trophy and bowing off to the audience was captured quite artistically by several camera lenses. It was Ananda’s second time emerging as Champions within its rather brief time span at the competition.
Thilina says, “I joined the drama circle in 2010, and to be really honest, drama is the only place I find peace inside school. Drama is the place where there is least drama at school! It is all about family. It is not only about the technicalities. You learn to survive and go forwards as a team. Theatre is not all about competition.

As the Drama Circle we make sure that we encourage all our youngsters to strive towards and take a more passionate approach to the theatre scene in Sri Lanka rather than just acting to win. Coming runners up in 2010 at Theatre Fest was a pleasing and delightful moment for all of us. As we grew year by year, we realized that doing this with the mindset of winning is not what we want. What we want is to leave behind a legacy where other people would look at us and understand that we do theatre for the love and passion we have for it,” said Udayaratne

Ananda has progressed over the years with a bunch of passionate and talented juniors and seniors. So what they want to do is to make this a collective, so that they ensure the audience that watches Ananda perform, has one heck of a day to remember. That is the goal.

“When we take part in the Drama Comp. organized by the Royal College Interact Club, what we do is we use the inter-house drama competition that happens prior to this at school. We take the four plays from the four houses. And we develop one of these plays into the drama comp. so what we do is, we don’t take our most senior and experienced actors and put them on stage.

We experiment with the new talent we have and put them on stage giving them the chance to act and see how they perform. And from that we take it to drama comp. so that we take the young lot more than the most senior and experienced actors, so that the young ones get a chance. And that is the most fundamental thing. So you do drama for the love, and you share the love with each other. Because, for me drama is everything. That is the core insight I have gained,” he added.