A view on ‘Men Without Shadows’

The last time I wrote a review, I said that I try to go watch plays without having prior expectations, because expectations can result to disappointment. This time, I tried a similar approach and failed. I walked into the Lionel Wendt with plenty of high expectations.

Here is why.

I have watched Sashane Perera, evolve as a director with school productions over the years, and with each year, he has shown promise. I like his style. That and, let’s face it, he managed to round-up a good cast. Some, I’d say, may not have star personalities, but they certainly are star actors in our local English theatre scene. The cast also included four Shakespeare best actors, 3 of them from D.S.

So were my expectations met?

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For those who don’t know, in a nutshell, the plot revolves around the capture of five members of the French resistance. They discuss what they will or won’t do or say under the pressure of torture.

One thing I like about Sashane’s direction, in many cases, I’ve seen him pay attention to detail. For instance, as we walked into the auditorium, the lights were rather dim, giving us an eerie feeling while we waited, helping to build the mood and intensity before the play commenced.

As the bell went off and the lights came on, we witnessed a super good-looking set, which I believe Vishan Gunawardena was responsible for. He never ceases to amaze me with these things. The set was built on two levels. The lower level for the dungeon where the prisoners were held and the upper for the Vichy Government officers. An intelligent idea for the use of stage. However, the folks who paid the highest prices for tickets were at a massive disadvantage as the placement of the set was such that, I was told the front row seats gave people a good view of some actors’ nostrils, whereas, the balcony (cheapest seats) had the best view. This was probably one of those unforeseen last-minute blunders, nevertheless not fair to the audiences.

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The acting was overall commendable. Rajiv Ponweera’s portrayal of ‘Clochet’ was my favorite. I’d go to the extent of saying that he was the ‘star’ amongst the stars. Chamath Arambewala was quite convincing under torture, and managed to make the middle-aged ladies in front of me feel uncomfortable. Gehan Blok was pretty good too.

In my conversations with people who watched the play, it seemed that a particular role was never discussed, for it was not a role that really stood out in the script. That role was played by Dino Corera, who I think needs a special mention for being consistent right throughout his portrayal of the old captive.

Even the best of actors fail in their task of doing justice to a role when the role is simply not suited for them. Gehan De Chickera may be a good actor, but I thought the role of the resistance leader (john) was a misfit. There was absolutely no chemistry between ‘John’ and ‘Lucie’. In fact, the scene in which he tried to convince ‘Lucie’ to not shut him out was er… painful to watch. Nevertheless, with less support from a co-actor, Bimasara managed to hold a difficult role together, which is not an easy task.

It was sad to see some actors putting on “Sri Lankanish” accents and mannerisms in certain places. It certainly did not compliment the rest of the setting. It was also sad to see inconsistent articulation by a bunch of very experienced actors. Rajiv and Chalana were better in this aspect. I was seated in row ‘H’, and I could not understand some of the dialogue.

Lighting and sound effects were of excellent taste and was executed well. I was happy with the overall characterization, interpretation, blocking and direction in general.

The play was under the StageLight&Magic banner, and Feroze Kamardeen is known as the man behind SLM. This easily paves the way to a notion that Feroze would have had a hand in guiding the director and the actors. Myth! A couple of weeks before the play, I paid the Kamardeen household a visit in search of mouthwatering brownies his wife Ayidha makes. Yum! While I was gobbling a piece up with ice cream and strawberries, he informed me that he had no intention of walking into any of the rehearsals though it was his theatre company, for he wanted Sashane to have complete authority / freedom to portray his creativity, which I think is a commendable act.

So was Sashane’s debut production successful? It’s not everyone’s cup of tea or bowl of soup, but I’d say… Yes. It’s a pretty good start. I enjoyed it, and I hope we can expect more productions from him.

All the best Sashane!

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