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My take on Venice and Theatre in Colombo

September 19, 2006
Just like a parent would “sweeten” bitter medicine given to a child, Feroze Kamardeen and SLM have mixed Pop Culture with Shakespeare to make it more sellable to the masses of Sri Lanka. Okay that wasn’t a good start. I’m sure I pissed off many Shakespeare fans by comparing the Bard’s work to “bitter medicine”. This is not my thinking. I swear by the Complete Works of Shakespeare, I posses.

The production of Venice was a severely commercialized one, and made to appeal to the masses as opposed to a few in the theatrical arena in Colombo. If there be a person who doesn’t agree with that, well “may the wrath of the bard, be with you!”. Those hard core Theatre lovers especially the lovers of the bard’s work would have had the shock of their lives. So it’s understandable the critical reviews the play has been getting. This is however in contrast to the reviews on the main stream media.

So.. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Feroze, not to praise him”. Although it may seem like I’m praising the dude during the rest of this post, I’m actually trying to strike a balance (Star Wars style). So I know I’m going to put my reputation (yes I to have some sort of a ding bat one at that) on line for the rest of the post and there’ll be a mob gathering to hang me in public (at the crossroads of Kottu), but I do ask you to bare with me, till you come to the end.

No, this wasn’t a Modernization of Shakespeare. That would be same theatre companies adaptation of Julius Caesar done in Military Fashion with a Live Newscaster and Projectetion Screens. I kinda liked it. ‘Venice’ was more like what Bathiya & Santhush do to Sinhala music in the country. Not that it’s bad (I like them too.. ok now hit me on the head publicly admitting that), it manages to capture a larger audience who normally would think it’s boring and wouldn’t get half of what is communicated.

It’s a debate about portraying/communicating 10% of the play to 90% of the audience or 90% of the play to 10% of the audience. One would argue that a single production of the Bard could be done at all these level’s making it appealing for all categories of audience’s, infact I like to think the production by us (Royal Production of M.O.V. in 96 or 97) managed to achieve some of this. However we must acknowledge the fact that times have changed and it’s not an easy task, with the “teen’s” of today being influenced by “Jay-Z”, “Eminem” and what not, spending most of their time on Xbox’s and PS-2’s (is the PS-3 out?) , the last thing they’re (atleast most of them.. there will always be exceptions) going to find cool is Shakespeare.

Productions in Colombo have become a “Social Event” where people want to be seen, specially the youngsters, and once they don’t understand what’s going on onstage (not that they really pay attention to it, they expect it to get up and hit you in the face), they become restless and bring the house down. Inter School Drama Comp (by the I.C.R.C.) and the Shakespeare Drama Comp (by the Y.M.C.A) are perfect examples. The talent (onstage I mean) at these plays are over shadowed by the loud/restless balcony (comprising ofcourse of the very people I was talking about). A show at the “Wendt” is more of a chance to show off your modified car, your new hair do or the new top (revealing being an understatement) you bought, than enjoy a production and be dragged into the world that the Director portrayed. Let’s face it!

Yes I know, you are dying to bring out “Checkpoint” and how it’s the perfect exception to the above argument. Hmm.. I don’t know but atleast the audience seemed more mature than what I saw at “Venice”. Yes I chose “mature” since I realized that you actually cant use “age” as the metric to understand theatre, as discussed above (forgive me I too make errors you know). I think it’s more to do with the audience you cater to, and target in your productions.

So in the end, there would have been more people (who don’t dig Shakespeare) in the audience that understood what M.O.V was about, all though it lacked the depth the bard would have liked to be portrayed through his lines and replaced them with songs that people (above mentioned) connect with. In the end it’s a compromise between people walking off not understanding the play and what was being said, and people walking out (shaking their heads in disgust) saying “this is not Shakespeare”. Again you may point that both these segments of the audience may be captured in one production, and the Director in this instance took the more lucrative and easy way out. To that I bow my head humble silence.

Anyways what ever camp you fall into, there were big “No no’s” committed in the play (in my opinion ofcourse). Here’s my list.

Clip on Mic’s.

Takes away from a Theatrical experience. The need to project and connect with the audience is gone. One would argue that the actors’ voices needed to be preserved because of the long drawn out performance schedule and the singing. The cast was doubled/alternated this shouldn’t have been a problem. The singing should be done by, a chorus (to be discussed later). The use of pick up mic’s are understandable but still, the Wendt is a perfectly audible stage. One of the first things we get our chaps to do is Projection Training at the Navarangahala.

Live Singing

I first saw this incorparated in “Noices Off” by the same theatre company (I’m talking about live band, and the whole works, not an unaccompanied soloist). This requires people who can sing. Mind you it’s a load of pressure on a lead portraying a role but to add a live performance is a little too much even to a brilliant actor or a brilliant singer, unless your both. If you really want to have live performances use a chorus (that can sing of course) so that the burden is on them. The lead can do a Milli-Vanilli if they really want.

Basics in Theatre
Some of the basics in Theatre were ignored, mostly due to the clip on mic’s, where the actors made very little effort to make proper eye contact with the audience and deliver to them. Often were found delivering their lines with their back to the audience. Also the lead actors were upstaged a few times during crowd scenes, where there was too much of movement.


It’s fancy to use Moving Heads and all that, but they failed to focus on the faces of the actors or the actors didn’t walk up to the light. Hence most of the facial expressions were lost (if they had any). Only during a solo (not soliloquy, but a solo or duet) was a Follow spot used.

Character Build Up

There was no character build up as such. Each was played in the same level. Shylock (played by Marsh) and Gratiano (played by Zaiqi) were the two roles who stuck with me, although the others kept coming and going.

Other things on my head :

Stage – Backdrops and Platforms

I must say the backdrops were beautiful. The stage consisted of platforms forming different levels. The highlight being two platforms on rails, with the ability to move forward and backward. Brings me memories of our production of the M.O.V. where we used Steps and Platforms on wheels. I remember the audience being amazed. (Well actually most of them didn’t know they were on wheels, there were amazed that after a quick ‘black out’ those bulky steps weren’t where they used to be.) Enough of that, my point was that a good 10 years from that production couldn’t the Production Managers come up with something better than a stagnent set of platofrms that moved forward and back?


Looked amazing, and in period (according to my knowledge). You’d expect nothing better than that from Sonali White – Haddai.

There you are. I hope this managed to bring some balance to the force, rather than seem like I’m praising the dude for his efforts. Maybe we’ll call it a “Pop-corn play” (I’d give 4 pop-corns out of 5) so that there’s a clearer distinction from the others (other plays performed in Colombo) that the critics will be satisfied with.

On a side note : I came to the realization (at the end of this post, during spell check, I had to, soo many Theartre buff’s will be reading this, who are already pissed with me 🙂 ) that I keep messing up the spelling of Mr. Shakespeare. The fact that, there being numerous ways to go about it, being beside the point. : )

Pics have been taken from their photoshoot available on the SLM site.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    September 19, 2006 4:36 pm

    yawwwwwnnnnn.. not another bloody post about Venice !! how utterly boooooring..

  2. Anonymous permalink
    September 19, 2006 5:26 pm


  3. sach permalink
    September 20, 2006 3:39 am

    Hey there,

    Don’t these stupid anons annoy you with their banter? =) I liked your post, especially the line “I come to bury Feroze, not to praise him”. One of these days some of us need to get together and do just that. But even from six feet under he’ll start shouting so we have to duct tape his mouth as well 😉

  4. September 20, 2006 3:59 am

    You’ll notice that the critics of the critic always hide behind anonymity. This is usually a good indication that their point has no defensible value. I thank you for pointing out another drawback of using clip-on microphones, one that I missed, about them allowing the actors to neglect the basics of stage performance. Also, after reading your review I realize that I may have been too harsh on the costumes. In any other production with an easily navigable stage I would have enjoyed them too. Good work.

  5. Mr. Evil permalink
    September 20, 2006 7:26 am

    Nice post 😀 interesting read.. nice to have someone who actually writes a 100% from many pov’s instead of one.. As for the annons 😀 I love them annons 😀 they somehow start bi**h fights between bloggers themselves. After all most annons are bloggeres themselves.. lol 🙂

  6. Chaar~Max permalink
    September 20, 2006 9:49 am

    Thanks guys! I just wanted to put the record straight (atleast in my opinion).

    Come to think of it Mr. Evil, you might be one of these “anon’s” in disguise eh?? I see you man! 🙂

    As for my knowledge abt theatre, its powered by Wikipedia, a quick read and you can sound “Soo Cool”.. ha ha ha.. all you “anon’s” fell for it! 🙂

    What would a Systems Administrator, who studied Maths for A/L’s know about Theatre eh??

  7. September 20, 2006 2:34 pm

    talking abt anonymity.. there are bloggers who hide behind anonymity as well.. aren’t there? or does everyone blog under their name?

  8. Anonymous permalink
    September 21, 2006 4:24 am

    Writing under a nick is fine as long as you leave a valid method of contact. My e-mail or website address is always attached to my nick and hence to anything I say online. If you need to say something back to me you can. My nick is my identity.

    I believe the kind of anonymity we were talking about is the kind where the person in question can rest easy in the knowledge that anything they do or say will not lead back to them. It is this safety net that spurs them on to misbehave.

  9. Chaar~Max permalink
    September 21, 2006 5:22 am

    Well I dont have anything against “annon”. The reason I’ve let anybody reply, is that it will open up the forum for a free flow of thougts. The readers have to judge what sought of dude the comentator is by his comments.

    The interesting fact is that there are some bloggers, who wish to express som opinions as “Anon” although they have blogs and other links to themselves. That is the hypocracy of the matter.

    I have nothing against Bloggers not revealing them selves. Hell I hide behind an Identity too. But it’s a major killer when those who know me(rapidly increasing no) shout out “Ah Chaar-Max!” in public i tell you! 🙂

    BTW: Dude love ur post on Venice too, and ur blog too! Loony Bin it is.

  10. Sophist permalink
    September 21, 2006 5:23 am

    Chaar…machan, you disappoint me. Immensely. A lot of Royalists are biased towards the MOV because they performed some years ago. And I’m sure your good mate Zaiqi (god bless him) warranted some sort of balance in the public opinion.

    I wish to contest you on a few points. It is not ONLY theatre people who found the content of Venice objectionable. So did a lot of non – theatre people of which Jolly Lucifer is probably the best example.

    To be fair he did call it Venice – as opposed to MOV – but shouldn’t have credited Shakespeare. On any level, such massive intrusion and distortion of the original text may give rise to legal copyright issues. It might have been more apt if they said “SML presents MOV, loosely based on a play by WS”.

    Your jugglery of the spelling of Shakespeare is innovative and proves your point. My point however, is that there is only one right way to spell a name. The fact that it can be spelt differently and that people will nevertheless identify it – doesn’t make it right.

    I can’t comment further on your substance…because I didn’t see the play. I busted my money on the equally disappointing Royal Thomian instead.

  11. Chaar~Max permalink
    September 21, 2006 5:48 am

    Ado Sophist, machang I know, my reputation was killed by the post, but I my objective was pure. 🙂

    I dont think there are many Royalist’s who like Venice dude. Except for the fact that Zaiqi acted, and most of the back stage was done by a younger set of Royalist’s who haven’t heard of Royal’s production of M.O.V. So I can say with some what assuarance that I dont know any Royalist who was up in arms about Venice.

    Technically, I’m the last bugger should be writing this post, b’coz I’ve got serious issues with that bugger of a Director, making statements about “Royalist’s” and “Acting”. I’m glad our bugger in concern wasn’t apart of the mockery that took place.

    I read JL’s, Portrait’s and a few other Post’s on Venice before I published mine, and thought I’d try to give the play a chance. (On a different level ofcourse). So think we can agree to it as a “Pop-Corn” version?

    Ado, dont get so serious about the Spelling of the bard mate. That was intended to lighten up a bit. You know laugh and all. 🙂

    Anyways this is getting to serious. So pls lets talk abt the Haymen, I hear we have a good chance at Regetta too. But that’s what I’ve been hearing for the past 10 or so years. 😦

  12. Anonymous permalink
    September 21, 2006 7:05 am

    Thank you, though I didn’t do it for the publicity. More as a sort of therapy.

    I believe in free flow of ideas, but in places like these the flow can be brought to a stand-still by an Anon bumbling around.

    You might also notice that identity theft is also possible at times which allows the Anons even more power to cause mischief and mayhem. Still, I like the concept of freedom of expression, just wish it wasn’t abused by a minority at the expense of others.

    Unfortunately the Copyright on The Merchant of Venice expired a few centuries ago so it can be mauled to any extreme, though I’d say this was a low point in Sri Lankan theatre. Until SLM does another play, of course.

  13. September 21, 2006 10:59 am

    what’s in a name or an email address anyway? if u really want to get back to someone about a commment they left leave another comment i reckon.. i mean ur hardly going to write them a f**ing letter about it .. or are u?

    yup identity theft is always possible on the internet.. sad but true. maybe it might be safer to leave an Anon msg rather than leave ur name and email address all over ppl’s blogs?

    sorry but i really don’t know what the big deal is about Anon comments..

  14. Anonymous permalink
    September 21, 2006 12:02 pm

    Of course you’re not going to bother writing an e-mail. Just reply to their comment and be done with.

    But just knowing that we could write an e-mail at any time or that someone might recognize the e-mail address or the identity of the person behind it…

    That might make people think a little more carefully about what they say.

    Anyway CM, if it works for you that’s all that matters, yes?

  15. September 21, 2006 2:09 pm

    i take it u have never left an anonymous content on anyone’s blog JL?

  16. Anonymous permalink
    September 21, 2006 5:08 pm

    Yes, I just said: “i take it u have never left an anonymous content on anyone’s blog JL?”


    Funnily enough, no. I have an online identity that I’ve used for over ten years, which is still quite unique to me. If I have something to say I say it and stick by it. After all, I am a guest in someone else’s personal space.

    This is how I choose to comment. It may sound elitist, or stiff or whatever… so what? It’s the way I choose to behave, and others may choose differently.

    Now, what does d have to say? 🙂

  17. Anon permalink
    September 21, 2006 5:59 pm

    Anon is my online identity just like urs is Jolly Lucifer aka Loony Bin from Afghanistan. if your problem is that Anon doesn’t have a public email address for you to reply to then neither do u.. so stop complaining 🙂

  18. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2006 3:59 am

    Hehe, yeah… you’re right.

    I never checked my profile after the change to Blogger Beta. How embarrassing. 🙂

  19. Chaar~Max permalink
    September 22, 2006 4:04 am

    JL : I have a few questions abt Blogger Beta mate. SInce this post has yielded to many topics, I’ll ask them here.

    Does your previous archive stay with you?
    Do you have the ability to categorize the previous posts?
    Your general opinion about Beta?

    With regard to the anon’s, “D” wanted to tell you guys that my blog rocks!! 🙂

  20. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2006 7:28 am

    To be honest I haven’t really give Beta a good look. I moved away from Blogger a long time ago. There was a lot I liked about it, but not being able to categorize was too much of a crutch. What I see now is promising, but not enough to make me move away from Textpattern.
    And no, can’t migrate your archives just yet. That’s been promised in the near future and yes, you do have to manually categorize everything. I’ve already been through that once in the move to my present domain so it’s not the most enjoyable experience. At least I got rid of some of the old fluff.

    D may be on to something. Maybe Anons really do know what they are talking about (at times) :-p

  21. September 22, 2006 10:43 am

    hehe thank you thank you. i’m glad my efforts haven’t been wasted in standing up for the rights of all the Anons out there 🙂

  22. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2006 4:09 pm

    We weren’t talking about you E. Wait your turn. :-p

  23. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2006 5:09 pm

    Ooh, damn. Before I forget. Chaar, after reading your review I realised that I’d been too harsh on the costumes. And the backdrops, but it wasn’t till someone else pointed them out that I remembered them. Completely slipped my mind.

    I changed my review to take these into account and I’d like to thank you for pointing them out.

  24. September 24, 2006 9:25 am

    that’s ok as long as u recognise the efforts of a,b,c and d.. i’m well chuffed 🙂

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