Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Maname: Continuation of the same production :

Does it appeal to the contemporary audience?

(Continued from last week)

Professor Sarachchandra himself created a stream of drama which is unrivalled in our theatre history, from the short interludes like Rattaran, Elova Gihin Melova Ava and Vellavaehun to the major plays in which he explored the Maname Nataka from, his own unique creations: Sinhabahu, Premato Jayati Soko and Lamahansa Natakaya and its variations, Vessantara and Mahasara.

Indeed, in fairness to a great artiste we need to remember that Maname is not perhaps the peak of Professor Sarachchandra's dramatic oeuvre. To my mind, there are twin peaks, Sinhabahu and Premato Jayati Soko.

The production by Professor Sarachchandra which was staged, for the first time, in 1956, celebrates fifty years. While Maname Nadagama based on the Jataka story of the same name, brings out the unfaithful and feeble nature of the woman according to conventional Sri Lankan thinking, Sarachchandra's modern rendering focuses on the human predicament.

He turns it into a communication of humaneness.However, Maname cannot be described as a pure Sinhala drama as it is influenced by other factors including ethnic dancing traditions. Therefore, it should be more aptly called a Sri Lankan drama.

Maname also marked the beginning of a serious drama criticism in Sinhala. For instance, the Maname critique by Professor Siri Gunasinghe was as meticulous as the drama itself.

Professor Sarachchandra himself stated in his autobiographical novel 'Pin Ethi Sarasavi Varamak', that when Maname was staged at the Lionel Wendt, the affluent class was used to sending their servants to see the drama.

Professor Sarachchandra had done a great deal of research into the diverse folk-drama and traditions since 1953 and it should be mentioned that Maname was the culmination of the painstaking research. However, following Maname, a generation of dramatists emerged who basically and blindly imitated the motifs of Maname until 1962's production of 'Sinha Bahu'.

This movement of stylish-drama faded away with a generation of dramatists who started to experiment with drama, such as, Henry Jayasena, and Sugathapala de Silva. These bi-lingual intellectuals who had been ,by then, fed up with the monotony of the stylish-drama of the day which were dominated by borrowed features of Maname (Pote Guru, chorus etc.), had started to produce adaptations and translations of European Drama.

Prescribed A/L text

Although Maname has been a prescribed text for the Advanced Level syllabus, it is pertinent, at this stage, to pose the question how far the continuation of the production in its original form is relevant to contemporary Sri Lankan society against the backdrop of redefined class relations.

The simple class structure that was in place at the turn of the 19th century had now been withered into thin air and in its place is a complex class structure and certain professional guilds emerged, and they are more attuned to cheap pop music than value-based works of Art.

On the other hand, perhaps, it is only Maname that has continuously carried on the same production for over fifty years totally disregarding the ground realities and changes that had been taken place in the sphere of Drama and Theatre in Sri Lanka in general, and society at large.

The secret behind the continuous popularity of Shakespeare's dramas is their different productions and adaptations in many parts of the globe by dramatists. This fact was amply manifested by the overwhelming reception that Professor Ashley Halpe's adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night had, when it was staged at Punchi Theatre last week.

New generation of dramatists

The new generation of dramatists have opened up several avenues in Sri Lankan drama and theatre; as the semi-stylish drama of Henry Jayasena such as 'Kuveni' and Sugathapala de Silva's realistic drama as well as the emergence of mass visual media such as in TV and cinema.

Within this system of education, students are compelled to study Drama and Theatre only to pass examinations and as an easy avenue to gain university entrance.

Due to demeaned public taste and ignorance, the audience is used to watch cheap dramas and pass judgement on characters in classical productions comparing them with the comic characters portrayed by the same actors and actresses.

In this millieu, it is no wonder that there is a trend of audiences hooting the classical productions. In addition, the dramatists should also take into consideration the infinite technological advancements that have taken place in the theatre.

In order to attract more spectators other than the old generation who sang and acted chapters of Maname at parties, and the Advanced Level students the present production of Maname should keep up the high quality of the original production by Professor Sarachchandra integrating modern developments in the theatre, into the production.

It should be emphasized here that the audience who appreciated Maname consisted of multi-ethnic population including Tamils and Muslims. Therefore, it is timely that Maname should also be produced in Tamil by Tamil academics with a wide understanding of Tamil language and literature.

It is also the responsibility of the academics to contribute more and more in terms of literary criticism like those by Reggie Siriwardena. Academics like Dr. Lukshmi de Silva who made an enormous and lasting contribution to the literature are now out of the limelight.

Considering this situation, it is imperative that academics should contribute more in order to attract the younger generation to the Drama and Theatre or Ananda College should produce at least another Reggie Siriwardena.


Reggie Siriwardena commenting on Maname says:

Looking back on my first night responses to Maname twenty-five years ago (I articulated them a few days later in a review in the Ceylon Daily News), I recall that what struck me most forcefully in the play was Prof. Sarathchandra's breakthrough in the theatrical form. This was not only my reaction. It was also that of several other early critics of the play.

The University Sinhala Dramatic Society had in the forties and early fifties presented adaptations of European dramatists-Moliere, Gogol-as well as Prof. Sarathchandra's original play, Pabavati.

The mode of these plays was that of light domestic comedy, and the linguistic idiom of urban middle-class speech. This was true even of Pabavati: although its subject was legendary, the tone and idiom were such as to make the characters seem to have come out of a Colombo middle-class household.

In these plays what the stage presented was a mildly caricatured version of the social world of the audience, for the playgoers who came to Sinhala drama and King George's Hall were a bilingual urban middle-class group - a subset, so to speak, of the audience which went to the same hall to watch the productions of Prof. Ludowyk.

It has often been said that through Maname Prof. Sarathchandra was able to appeal successfully to every class of theatregoer and to bring a new audience into the Sinhala theatre. But I think it is necessary to define more exactly the social composition of this new audience and the precise extent to which Maname broke down the class distinctions in audience tastes.

Nobody thought twenty-five years ago of making a sociological study of the theatre audience. But from my impressions of the spectators who came to the performance of Maname in its early years at the Borella YMBA and Lumbini, I would hazard the guess that the new audience of 1956 and immediately succeeding years was composed predominantly of urban lower middle-class Sinhala speaking people.

It seems to me unlikely that, in those years at any rate, the Sinhala theatre was able to reach out to any significant extent to social groups beyond the middle class. However, the broadening of the theatre audience by Maname in 1956 was a significant phenomenon, for while the Sinhala speaking lower middle-class may in previous decades have gone to Tower Hall or Jayamanne plays, they hardly came to King George's Hall.

What Maname effected then was to give the bilingual artists working in the theatre - Prof. Sarathchandra and those who came in his wake: Gunasena Galappaththi, Dayananda Gunawardena and Henry Jayasena - an opening to the Sinhala-speaking lower middle class.

In the socio-cultural climate of 1956 this process was assisted by the fact that Maname and the form it brought to the contemporary stage was a renewal of a traditional form of the Sinhala folk drama.

Apart from the intrinsic dramatic achievement of Maname - its undoubted success in fusing action, words and music - part of the appeal that the play had to audiences and critics was in its rediscovery of an indigenous folk tradition. It was in consonance with the climate of Sinhala cultural revivalism in and after 1956.

It is significant that in much of the critical writing of the period Maname was contrasted with the 'hybrid form' of the nurtiya. 'Hybrid', perhaps, in its incongruous mixture of different theatrical conventions: but underlying the use of the word, there was also probably an allusion to the fact that the origins of the nurtiya were foreign - the Parsi theatre and, behind it, a debased transmission of the influences of European opera. Maname, in contrast, was felt to be a growth out of the native soil, and this facilitated its acceptance in 1956.

The fortunes of what came to be called the 'stylised theatre' after Maname and its viability today are large questions which I don't propose to discuss here...


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Sri Lanka

| News | Editorial | Financial | Features | Security | Spectrum | Impact | Sports | World | Magazine | Junior | Letters | Obituaries |


Produced by Lake House Copyright 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor