Saturday Magazine
Checkpoint: Innovative and vastly entertaining

by Benjamin Parfitt

Checkpoint: Three Strangly Normal Plays
'Stages Theatre Company'
Director - Ruwanthie de Chikera

Checkpoint, performed at the British Council, is the maiden production of the young theatre group Stages Theatre Company, comprising of three short plays in a single evening. The company’s self-professed aims are the promotion of original script writing in English, the translation of Sinhala/Tamil plays into English and the development of the ‘art’ of forum theatre - three goals that were clearly reflected by each of the performances.

The first play of the evening was an original production entitled The 24hr. Store, written by 18 year old Tara Kumarasinge. A relatively contemporary piece, The 24hr. Store was concerned with modern society’s obsession with beauty and the image of the ‘perfect’ body, with references to cultural iconology, consumerism and the beauty product industry. The play clearly had a point to make, and the cleverly constructed musical score carried through what was on occasion a theatrically unadventurous piece - I could not help but feel the play needed something extra to round itself off, although its content was sound and direct, with some excellent costuming and digital projection techniques.

The second piece was an English translation of Last Bus Eke Kathawa by Dhananjaya Karunaratne, and for me was clearly the highlight of the evening. A thoughtful and brilliantly translated script was brought to life through the truly professional and accomplished performance of Gihan De Chickera. At 22, it was only Gihan’s second performance, but from start to finish the profoundly talented youngster captivated the entire audience with his convincing embodiment of several characters, each wonderfully unique and instantly recognisable from the others. Effortlessly, it seemed, Gihan was able to switch between humour and seriousness whilst being totally convincing and truly masterful at each. A wonderful 30 minutes!

Finally came the more experimental Impromptu Theatre, an exercise in ‘forum theatre’, the concept being that after watching an initial scene setting out a basic scenario, the audience would be encouraged to offer suggestions as to where the ‘story’ might go next, and the actors would improvise accordingly; the only rule was that the performers had to stay true to the original essence of the characters. The point of this, in the eyes of the director, was to challenge the normal apathy of Sri Lankan theatre audiences, and by this criteria the piece was a resounding success with the entire audience throwing forward contrasting suggestions and analysis. On a theatrical level, however, the possibilities were fairly limited despite sound performances from those involved, and at times you could not help but feel that there was only one possible direction in which the piece could go, no matter what suggestions were offered by the audience. Still, the exercise was immensely enjoyable.

Although independently some of the elements of Checkpoint were slightly weak, as a combined whole the performance was both innovative and vastly entertaining. By playing the three plays of each other, Checkpoint covered both a wide range of social issues and utilised a relatively varied assortment of theatrical devices. As a company debut, Checkpoint was a very promising and accomplished showcase of what the Stages Theatre Company wishes to achieve. Given time to develop and mature, I am confident that they will be among the leaders in Sri Lankan contemporary theatre.