Handagama returns to theatre with A Death at an Antique Shop | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Handagama returns to theatre with A Death at an Antique Shop

14 March, 2021

It is indeed exciting news for all theatre lovers that the avant-garde filmmaker of our time, veteran artiste Asoka Handagama returns to stage after three decades with his latest theatrical venture A death at an Antique Shop this month. His second coming on stage is since his last theatre production Magatha, which was awarded the best original play at the State Drama Festival in 1989.

Being an avant-garde filmmaker in the country, Handagama’s artistic approaches have always been an encouragement for many generations and this time his return to stage is expected to help revive Sri Lankan theatre, which has been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is indeed an inspiring feeling and is like coming back home,” in an interview with the Sunday Observer, Handagama expressed his great pleasure to return to the stage where he started his artistic career decades ago. Being very critical in his artistic expression, his stage plays like Maghatha and Hena, as well as many of his cinematic expressions, can be described as his critical reactions to the socio-political conditions of the time he represented. However, today the socio-political conditions are much different, much more complex than before. Therefore, as he explains his return to the stage this time is by no means an extension of the art practice he brought to the stage in the previous era, but it will be a novel artistic approach.

“Today we live in a different socio-political context compared to the era that I was engaged in stage drama in the late 1980s. The change began in the early 1990s and today we are going through a developed version in a society that has undergone that transformation. The socio-political condition at this moment is not straightforward compared to the past. It needs a different approach to talk about this different social condition and you may have experienced this different artistic approach in my cinema practice. In that sense, I would like to introduce my return to stage as another reflection of my cinematic practice,” Handagama said.

Having been highly influenced by Brechtian theatre techniques such as alienation effect, form without content is quite evident in Handagama’s every artistic venture where the audience is hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in the artwork. “It is a conscious decision that I have made to follow this alienation effect in my every art piece and that has been supported by the concept of form without content as I don’t pay much attention to linear character development as well as linear storytelling. I pay more attention on developing a form to bring out my artistic expression, because as I believe the most important thing in artistic expression is the form in which you express it, not what you have to say,” Handagama explained.

Handagama does not admit that the art of stage drama has collapsed as many complain. Although there has been a decline in audience attraction and changing the priorities of the state and private funders for the arts, he does not see a shortage of quality drama productions. “There’s no upper middle-class in our country that has an interest to invest on art. Very few people today invest in art for their own self-satisfaction. As a country we have an attitudinal poverty. However, in the midst of all this chaos, there’s no greater inspiration than to engage in this collective entertainment medium of art, which has a different effect and impact that cannot be experienced by any of the individual entertainment mediums that are quite popular today,” Handagama emphasised.

As he retired from his 30-year – career at the Central Bank last year, a film and a stage play lined up in Handagama’s mind. Taking advantage of his early retirement and the Covid-19 lockdown time, he completed both scripts and was able to create swirling waves on social media by his Zoom-based short film ‘Beer without alcohol’ last year.

For Handagama work is the only thing that gives substance to his life. “When we started the rehearsals for A Death at an Antique Shop no one but I believed that we will be able to stage this as scheduled in March. I’m very much process driven and when I start something I always want to complete it and in that sense I am very much a result oriented artist. For three decades I had to stay away from stage dramas mainly because of my career at the Central Bank. When I decided to retire, I wanted to dedicate my retirement completely to art and it is an excitement to start my retirement from theatre,” Handagama added.

The cast of the A Death at an Antique Shop includes the most distinguished actors in Sri Lankan theatre, led by veteran theatre and cinema actor and Prof of Visual and Performing Art, Saumya Liyanage. Pasan Ranaweera, Nipuni Sharadha and Stefan Thirimanna are the other lead performers. Music for the play is by Chinthaka Jayakody, Production Design by Bimal Dushmantha, and Lighting by Anuruddha Mallavarchchi.

This play will be performed in keeping with the Government’s Covid-19 regulations and safety measures. All the seats in the theatre are box-planned and can be purchased only at the theatre. The tickets sale and the box plan are already open from March 6.

This new theatrical exercise by award winning filmmaker and dramatist Asoka Handagama, will be a novel experience for the theatre audience of Sri Lanka.