Art Photography, Athol Fugard, decolonization, drama and theater, Franz Fanon, Freedom, Freedom of Expression, Minimalistic, My country My Africa, Photography, Politics, Sanjeewa Upendra, Sri Lanka, Waruni Anuruddhika
The curtain opened. A slogan which was written on a wooden pallet states that “Situvillen thora igeneema kalaya kadamaiki. Kiyaveemen tora situvill vinashayaki”. (“An education without thought kills time. Thought without reading is dangerous”). A bell, text book and a chair were set on the desk in the middle of the stage. Two chairs were placed in the sides of the table in a symmetrical way, Blue and amber lights were illuminating the two separate symmetrical layers of the stage.
That was the lay out and the set of the play ‘Freedom’ which was presented for the State Drama festival on 6thof March 2019 at Elphinstone theatre.
‘FREEDOM’ is a translation of the play called ‘My country My Africa’ written and directed by one of the most celebrated South African playwrights, novelists, actors and directors, Athol Fugard. The Sri Lankan theater production was directed by Sanjeewa Upendra and Ashoka Weerathunga translated by W. S. Wejesinghe. That was the third time that play was produced in Sinhala theatre. It was produced a few years back by Buddhika Damayantha and Sanath Karunarathne.
The play ‘Freedom’ portrays the transformation of human relations that could happen during the process of decolonization. Through the characters of the school teacher – Mr. M -, his young rebellious student Themi who is a black African student and Isabelle, a white female student. Themi lives in a place called ’Location ‘where the most marginalized people lived. In contrast, Isabelle represents the colonizers’ social class, living in another part of the world in Africa. As play demonstrated, all these three characters, obviously representing the different categories of people in colonial world demonstrate the painful and violent experience that people undergo during the process of decolonization. The political context that has been discussed in the play shares many similarities to the politics in Sri Lankan context even today.
Part of these experiences stem from the transformation of social relations resulting from the discussion about freedom and political action against the colonizer. Thus, the idea of freedom is interpreted from two different perspectives; the liberal art educational perspective and the perspective of political activist. While the political activist’s perspective is informed by the liberal arts perspective both are shaped by the economic and political conditions of the elite as well as the cry for survival by the masses. The play in a way reminds us of Franz Fanon’s analysis of the behavior of each class during the decolonization process. Though I am not sure to what extent the director has captured that subtle political meaning, the play leads us to question the meaning of freedom from different perspectives. What are the possible ways to achieve freedom? Are the acts or paths that we choose to find Freedom politically correct? How can the notion of freedom be meaningful?
The director has tried to portray the overall discussion through minimalistic set design and production design. While the artists Sanjeewa Upendra (Mr. M) Dilusha Lakmali (Isabelle Dyson) and Danushka Wanninayake (Thami Mbikiwani) who performed in the play did justice to their characters, at the same time, it was the lighting and music that enhanced the mood of the production. This is a must watch play.
Freedom won the best actor and actress award and best translation award at the National Drama Festival 2019.
Franz Fanon is a French West Indian Political Philosopher, writer.
(Photo and Note by Waruni Anuruddhika)