The making of a kingly reclaim
How the 'Joes' regained the crown of interschool
drama after a decade:
From left: Brenden Hakel, Heshal Peiris, Joshua Perera,
Christopher Jayawardena, and Melanctha Cruse.
The dream of a decade, plotting and planning with much commitment by
students and old boys of St. Joseph's College Colombo resulted in a
'champion's production' that earned them the 'crown' at the finals of
the Annual All Island Interschool Shakespeare Drama Competition last
year. It was 'King Lear' that brought back the 'crown' of interschool
drama to the boys in blue and white on Darley road, fulfilling a
collective dream since they last won the competition in 2005.
Recently I met five of the seven core cast members of that winning
production in the hallowed precincts of their beloved school along with
their director, old Josephian and well known theatre practitioner, Kevin
Cruze, who maintained, "Actually King Lear was a production I had
planned for a girl school that year but eventually I didn't take on the
job and was later impelled to take on the task of directing my own
school's production." It was Anuk De Silva, an old Josephian and a
reputed theatre practitioner himself, who had been instrumental in
convincing Cruze to take on the directorial mantle.
Seated in cordial interactive conversation with Christopher
Jayawardena, Heshal Peiris, Joshua Perera, Melanctha Cruse and Brenden
Hakel together with their director, I delved to discover the craft of
performance developed by them.
The initial step had been in the aftermath of the inter-house drama
competition, which set the 'stage' for a prospective Shakespeare
ensemble. Casting was done, and a general setup of 'who plays who' was
With a core of seven leads and a total cast of 24 players, the boys
and their director had a weighty task ahead.
When asked what it was like to gear up, mentally, to perform at the
finals, the five youngsters said very candidly that as soon as they got
to know they were in the finals it was simply a matter of charging
forth-'full steam ahead'! Momentum had built up with a great deal of
past pupil support pouring in to drive the boys forward with the school
spirit. From that point onwards claiming the laurels of victory was not
something for themselves but all the 'aiyas' since 2005.
Morale had been built up optimally! But apart from the emotional
strength, a very carefully tailored plan had been crafted to build up
the cast and production from scratch. Were they 'comfortable' with their
roles initially?. "No", they answered in unison.
The Director Kevin Cruze
Cruze's strategy had been to test the boys with different roles
before making a final decision. Casting the character of King Lear had
been a colossal task. "Everything fell into place about 3 weeks before
the finals," explained Cruze, who said when he saw how well Heshal
played the eponymous protagonist the rest wasn't difficult.
Melanctha admitted that he found it particularly difficult to adjust
when he was recast and had to switch characters across genders going
from being the Earl of Glouster to a daughter of Lear. But nevertheless
Melanctha along with Joshua proved his acting ability by securing a
nomination for the award of Best Supporting Actor last year. Brenden who
played the role of the Fool had a particularly big task being the
youngest among them. The King and The Fool had to gel well. And Heshal
and Brenden made it a point to cordially build up their interplay
dynamics with a little pre rehearsal 'clowning around' to thaw any ice
that might have existed across their age divide. "As a team we needed to
gel very well," said Heshal who believes it was a key to their success.
They had all felt they began living their characters out rather than
'performing'. There had even been something like off the record peer
reviews among themselves of each others' performances. They all said
'Kevin aiya' kept pushing them, leaving zero space for slacking!
Cruze had regularly made notes studiously over each actor's
He made each of them come up with ideas to improve their performance
after he pointed out shortcomings.
He brought in fellow theatre practitioners to taken on several
players as small tutoring groups to build up little details in their
performance. Several of them had been, needless to say, old Josephians.
Thespians like Dino Corera, Anuk De Silva, Amesh de Silva, Revon
Fernandopulle had been some of them. And stage management had been done
by Jordan Bryan, who incidentally had to face the tragedy of an
irreplaceable personal loss during the days leading up to the finals.
Despite the tribulations there was an enormous degree of unwavering
dedication to reach the goal as a collective dream.
Scene from the winning production
Watching the BBC's film of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' had been helpful
to the boys to learn more of their characters.
That showed them what 'events' shaped their characters prior to the
scenes they played in their production which is an ensemble of excerpts
from the drama script. It was therefore not merely learning lines for
the roles but realising the characters. How important a factor were the
props? With a minimalist approach they had opted for props that were
more convertible for their onstage needs and not pose as possible
The backdrop mattered in creating a sense of atmosphere the boys said
in facilitating a smoother performance. "We did feel like we were
walking into a castle," they admitted. Without it their performance
level would have decreased.
And the 'final factor' at 'the finals to boost their 'performing
pulse' had been the big audience! The boys knew they were performing to
a large crowd and it was their moment of glory.
They were committed to giving nothing short of their absolute utmost!
And no they were not really 'nervous' as some may think. "It was like a
dream," said Christopher reflecting on that evening of performing at the
finals. "Getting there was one of the best experiences of my life."
The dreams from childhood whenever they are touched and tasted prove
to be the sweetest of memories in later life.
Surely Kevin Cruze and last year's victorious Joes can happily make