There not being a regular English Drama outfit — and there being much inner issues whenever attempts at drama in this language is attempted — Kingswood’s participation at the Shakespeare Drama Competition conducted by the Central YMCA has always been an irregular affair. In the past decade or so, the school has been to this fixture on 4 occasions, their best run being in 2001, where they bagged the ECB Wijayasinghe trophy awarded for the Best Actor.
In 2001, the team performed the concluding scene from the Fifth Act of King Henry V (Act 5; Sc II). The play, of course, is the one dealing with Britain’s annexation of France , by the ambitious King Harry of the Plantagenets. The part selected by the enthusiastic drama teacher of the time, Mrs. Sheena Winter, in fact, was also the scene where Harry woos the French Princess, Katherine. In this Scene there is also a pleading speech by the Duke of Burgundy who highlights the merit, value and the timely need for peace.
The 2001 production was a success story and would have ideally revitalized the lethargic English dramatic culture of the school. However, this was not to be so; as the team, as a unit, had no focus nor the vision to carry through. After its tasting of success, the outcome was no more than what is seen at a rum party, for without perceptive planning, the year that followed resulted in a crush. The 2001 effort, however, stands out as a “moment” in the scribe’s memory; as well as in the school’s annals, if such annals could recognize the importance of the competition in question.
Playing beside the writer, of that 2001 cast were the likes of Vishwa Tennakoon, who played the role of Katherine with such natural grace that a well known FM DJ walked up to the school bus after the performance just to get it clarified whether Kingswood, indeed, was not a mixed school. Amilaka Tennakoon (Senior Prefect, 2002) played the role of the Duke of Burgundy, while his twin Thimilaka was Louis, the King of France. The memorable Alice — maid to Princess Katherine — was acted out by Kosala Harischandra, while the French Queen was Brian Imbuldeniya’s assignment.
I well remember the likes of Ruchira Somasundara on the Henrian bench, while Ranil Pelpola was the Dauphin — who was set to storm off the stage half way through the peace bargain.
Interestingly, the episode acted out had many references to the need to “cure” Fair England and France of the grievous wound of war; both Burgundy as well as the French King and Queen allude to this necessity. It would only arouse interest to mention that at least 3 of the cast members have, much later, ended up in the field of pharmaceuticals.
The Best Production that year was won by St. Joseph’s, who edged out Royal in the finals. Kingswood won both Best Actor and Best Out Station Actor awards. Another incident which occurred at the finals / prize giving has earned a special space in my mind, and is preserved as a rare and warm memory that proved to me the love a fellow can have for his old school. During the finals, awaiting the prize distribution were three of us —- myself, and two friends who had prizes in the Girls’ category. During the short break between the girls’ final and the final of the boys we sauntered out in search of a little munch. Of course, our late teen calculations of what the food and beverage prices would be did not tally with the price lists of the BMICH lobby cafeteria. To find a Coke bottle at Rs 50 and a roll at 75 was not the best of discoveries after 2 hours of drama. Caught in a dilemma and staring at each other, our attention is caught by a gentleman, in suit and tie and gracefully on the other side of middle age, walking towards us.
The chap asks me whether I am from Kingswood; and getting that confirmed, he tells me that he figured it out from the tie I was wearing, but that he was not sure. He asks me what I am doing there and I give him a brief sketch of the prizes the school is to get at the end of the show. The beam that flashes across his eye was hazy, but its meaningfulness would only make clear meaning to me much later — and as a fellow a few years older. The chap introduces himself as Mr. Suppiah and point blank gives us Rs.500 to “get a snack” (and in 2001, diesel was selling at Rs 40 a liter).
I never met Mr. Suppiah again. But, the news of Kingswood’s “drama success” had been conveyed by him to the higher chairs of the Kingswood Union, Colombo. A few months later, I was the receiver of a handsome book voucher c/o some prominent old boys who knew the prestige of the Shakespeare Drama competition (which, sadly, most of the people in influential positions at college do not know) and for whom the success of Kingswood — no matter how minuscule — mattered.
In later years, Kingswood staged Antony and Cleopatra (in 2002 and 2008) and Henry the Fifth (again, in 2005), but with jinxes and other shortcomings that didn’t help the cause at all. The time, however, is ripe for inner rifts to give way for more meaningful work; for at College I see many purposeful boys with brimming energy, awaiting a set stage to raise the curtain clear.
Mrs. Winter — the stimulation of the 2001 team and the energetic teacher of that brief moment, I remember, had many obstacles to overcome in her strife in putting up this 30 minute scene for the most prestigious contest in that field. The nature of her struggle and resilience was only clear to some of us who, in subsequent years, have tried to carry the baton passed on to us by our good teacher who, a few years afterwards, left Kingswood. I believe, though, that a tribute is long overdue to her —– but from the boys who participated at Shakespeare in 2001 and 2002; if such tributes could be token gestures for the commitment people show, against repeated bungling, in giving “all for the school”.