Drama – “Apollo Club”
In as much as Literary activities took a prominent place in College activities Drama and stage thearatics too were vigorously followed. Several plays were successfully put on the stage in Mr. Darrell’s period and in the early years of Mr. Small’s. Concerts were organised, which were a great success. Of the plays that were acted, all the important scenes of The Merchant of Venice were put on the stage in Mr Darrell’s time. Mr. Darrell himself trained the actors and the principal parts were taken by Mr. Darrell himself. In the early years of Mr. Small’s period Julius Caesar was acted.
The Rev. Small and Rev. H. Highfield, the scholarly Principal of Wesley College once was a wittnes of one of the stage plays. At the end of the play both of them spoke a few appreciative words. They said that the acting had reached a very high standard and would have done credit to any Public School in England. That was a high compliment indeed, coming from men of the eminence of Mr. Small and Mr. Highfield.
In the second decade of the Century Mr. T. C. P. Fernando, who had joined the Staff in 1914, took a leading part in promoting drama and a Dramatic Club was formed. In 1918 he organised the production of Sheridan’s The Scheming Lieutenant, in which masters and boys took part It was a great success and was subsequently staged at Matara, Panadura and Moratuwa in addition to the original production at Galle (which was under the patronage of H. E. the Governor).
The next effort was a Sinhalese play by Mr. Darrell Peiris, then a member of the Staff, in 1923. This was a pioneer effort, and though a step in the right direction it was financially a failure. It was now the first year of Mr. Sneath’s period, during which music and drama became a regular feature of the College life. The Musical & Dramatic Society was formed in 1926 after Mr. H. A. Passe had staged part of Twelfth Night, which was a ‘set book’ for the Cambridge Senior that year, with a cast of boys only; and had gone on to stage other plays with the help of Lyn Ludowyk who joined the Staff in 1928. Lyn left for England in 1929; but in the same year Mr. A. J. Piatt, B. A., came out for a three-year term and gave valuable help in Classics and English and with the Musical & Dramatic Society. It was he that first proposed for it the name Apollo Club, and in 1930 and 1931 he organised very successful productions of The Child in Flanders. It was for these productions that a permanent stage was provided for the College Hall.
Mention should also certainly be made of a unique and most popular musical feature introduced during these years: the playing, daily, during the Assembly, of a gramophone record for the delight and musical education of the assembled classes.
After Mr. Platt’s departure the Apollo Club, still popularly called the Musical & Dramatic Society found its new Chairman in Herbert Keuneman, who joined the Staff in May of 1931, although the musical side of its activities was chiefly the devoted concern of Captain (then Captain, later Major) Felix de Saa Bandaranaike. As before, Richmond went on winning most of the local Schools Singing Competitions. On the drama side a many-ways memorable performance was that of Laurence Housman’s nativity play, Bethlehem, for which the incidental music had been composed and was performed by well-wishers of all persuasions amongst the good townsfolk of Galle, staged at Southlands. At the end of the evening, but fortunately — from an exclusively theatrical point of view — after the final curtain, an ‘outdoor’ and therefore to amateurs inaccessible fuse on the power lines blew (such had been the unprecedented demands upon the electrical supply) and plunged the neighbouring houses into long darkness at the very moment when an important party of dinner guests bidden by Miss Freethy, Southlands’ redoubtable Principal, sat down to table! Mr. Keuneman’s particular interest in the stage was its mechanics, electrical and otherwise; and to it he was willing to make many sacrifices, including dinner parties! Nevertheless, if Richmond temporarily lost from this contretemps some goodwill, it did gain for the Apollo Club the dimmer which had been built for the performance: the first dimmer to belong to any school stage in Sri Lanka not even the University Dramatic Society yet had one. It was a fearsome, but workable, monster and its first official keeper was Christo Perera, later to call himself (Dr.) J. S. P. Abeyawardena, complete in a rather necessary pair of electrician’s rubber gloves.
In 1936 when R. Collin-Thome became Secretary of the Apollo Club it was responsible for the production of the Diamond Jubilee Concert as well as producing several school plays, including the popular The Invisible Duke. The Chairman of the committee responsible was Major de Saa Bandaranaike, by then President of the Club. Until he left Richmond in 1947 he devoted the greatest enthusiasm to the encouragement of Music and Drama in the College; and after him his mantle fell upon the no less enthusiastic and able shoulders of Mr. A. S. Wirasinha. He was President of the Apollo Club for about five years, and continued to take a great interest in Drama during the whole of the period 1947 to 1961, including the time during which he was Principal. During his time some of the chief dramatic events were the production of a condensed version of the Mikado, Snow White acted by ten year olds, and Sinhalese translations of “Le Medecin malgre lui” & “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomine” the former being translated by Mr. Wannakukorale and the latter by Mr. D. J. E. Suraweera. The leading part in both these was played by P. G. Abeyesinghe, who proved himself to be a specially talented actor.
When Mr. Wirasinha gave up the presidency of the Apollo Club, and it was taken by Mr. J. V. M. Gunawardena, who was a good musician and remained in charge of singing during this whole period. Others who took a leading part in drama during Mr. E. R. de Silva’s time and after were Messrs K. J. H. Goonesekera, John Dhanapala and Turin Abeyeratne.
Mr. D. J. E. Suraweera, an old boy who joined the staff in 1956, took on Sinhalese drama from Mr. Goonesekera, who had produced Dittha Mangalika, a Jataka story. He produced among other plays Arista Sihinaya and Naki Manamalaya. G.K. Hattotuwegama, who as a boy had played the part of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice joined the staff, and in Mr. Welikala’s time produced a number of Sinhalese plays including Kalagola. During Mr. Kariyawasam’s time,the Master in-charge of drama was Mr. W. S. Bandara, and among other plays, he produced ‘Chapa’ in the College Hall, with the Government Agent as chief guest.
Mr. Sena Walawe and Mr. Ganakadhara also helped with drama and music. There was an inter-house Drama competition during Mr. Welikala’s time. In the sixties Richmond had on her staff Mr. Sena Walawe a reputed dramatist and a ballet artist and a pupil of Chitrasena. He re-enacted and staged the ballet Karadiya in 1964 with students of Richmond taking part. He was the main character sans Vajira in Karadiya which was a popular ballet in which Sena Walawe performed with Vajira the famous wife of Chitrasena.
Prof. E. F. C. Ludowyk (Jnr) a great son of Richmond in one of his articles had this to say about Stage Traditions of the Country:
“This is a matter that could be as speedily concluded as a classification of snakes in Iceland, with the remark, equally applicable in both cases, that there are none. But this would be improper. So our subject had better be what follows therefrom: the consequences of the lack of stage traditions in Ceylon. It is fair to state that though plays are performed in Ceylon— in English, in Sinhalese, and in Tamil—there is no stage tradition, and that the frequency of theatrical performances cannot make up for the lack of a stage tradition. This deficiency makes itself felt variously—in the shortcomings of understanding of what a play might be, in the absence of knowledge of what ‘a stage is’ in the obtuseness of audiences, and in the need of informed and cultivated criticism.”
In such a backdrop Richmond produced some top notch dramatists the country has ever known. To name some of those who made a name for drama in English is Prof. E. F. C. Ludowyk a son of Richmond and teacher whose father E. F. C. Ludowyk (Snr) who taught at Richmond from 1908 to 1935, in the Sinhala theater Prof. Ediriweera Sarachandra, Dr. Gamini Hattotuwegama comes to mind readily. Although the current generation is not aware Gamini Abeysinghe acted in the film “Daskama” in which was shown in 1958 and went on to act in another nine more movies. Two famous musicians Lionel Edirisinghe and Saranaguptha Amarasinghe too were products of Richmond; of recent times a noteworthy soul who has livened the stage is M. A. U. Chandrasiri and while Bandula Nanayakkarawasam made a name for himself as a popular lyricist.
Prof. E.F.C. Ludowyk
Prof. Evelyn Frederick Charles Ludowyk (1906-1985) a Sri Lankan Burgher Shakespearean scholar, author, playwright and critic, the first Professor of English of the University of Ceylon is the son of E. F. C. Ludowyk (Snr) who was an English teacher at Richmond from 1908 to 1935. Prof. Ludowyk was born on the 16th of October 1906 in Galle and died in 1985 in England.
In 1913 he passed the Junior Cambridge Examination with First Class Honours, with four distinctions. He also had the unparalleled distinction of being the youngest King’s Scout in the British Empire at the tender age of thirteen.
E.F.C. Ludowyk, joined the staff of University College in 1932 (and was appointed Professor in 1936), was the first Professor of English of the University of Ceylon and was the first Dean of Arts in the University in Peradeniya. Ludowyk born in colonial Galle and educated at Richmond College and the University College became Sri Lanka’s first native English language savant while being able to retain his bonds with Sinhala culture to the extent of being able to write a monumental work such as ‘The Footprints of the Buddha.’ Dr. Ludowyk died in England in 1985.
Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra
Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra is considered the Sri Lanka’s premier playwright person, writer, author, novelist, academic, diplomat, ambassador. Born on 3rd June 1914 in Galle Dr. Srachchandra had his early education at Richmond.
Professor Sarachchandra is a household name in Sri Lanka. He authored three major plays, Maname (1956), Sinhabahu (1961) and Pemato Jayati Soko (1969) as well several other smaller plays which enjoyed great popularity with the imggoer and take pride of place in the dramatic literature of his country. He was no doubt influenced by Prof. Ludowyk who was heading the English Department during his time at Peradeniya. The University named the open air theater in his honour during his lifetime. He achieved the unusual distinction (the more unusual for an academic) of being recognised in his own lifetime as the national dramatist of his country. The recognition came with Maname in 1956, nearly twenty years ago.
A legend in his own lifetime, he was appointed Ceylonese Ambassador in Paris In 1974. He died on August 16th 1996.
Mr. Saranaguptha Amarasinghe
Mr. Saranaguptha Amarasinghe had his education at Richmond and is credit with the Singhala College anthem “Pembara Richmond Meniyani“.
Dr. Lionel Edirisinghe
Dr. Lionel Edirisinghe the founder of the University of Visual and Performing Art had his early education at Richmond.
Dr. Gamini Hatthotuwegama
Dr. Gamini Hatthotuwegama is another brilliant and an erudite scholar, a product of Richmond. During his school days he was known as G. K. H. de Silva; referred as “GK” affectionately. (Gamini Kalyanadarsha Haththotuwegama de Silva). Two of his Sisters, Iranganie and Daphnie, studied at Richmond and then later on joined the staff as teachers. A third sister Nalini was attached to the Dental Clinic of the college as the Sister in charge.
Born on 29th November, 1938, in Galle, he received his entire education at Richmond. He entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in 1956 after passing his HSC (the current AL exam), and majored in English and obtained an Honours Degree.
He began his adult life as an English teacher at Richmond. He was a keen sportsman and introduced Badminton to Richmond and was the master in charge. During his time at Richmond he produced several plays in English – “Merchant of Venice”, “Oliver Twist”. His drama was not confined only to English and he was quite adept at Singhala plays as well and produced “Kalagola” in which M. A. U. Chandrasiri was the Kalagola, P. I. Abeykoon was the ‘Dikpitiya’ and Rukmanie Karunaratne was the ‘Diktala’. It became popular and several repeat performances were staged.
In 1964 he joined the then Vidyalankara Campus of University of Ceylon the current University of Kelaniya, as a lecturer in English and later on the after his Doctorate the Peradeniya University as a Visiting Lecturer. After serving the Universities of Kelaniya and Peradeniya for more than four decades he retired from the university service in 2005. As a university teacher, his contribution to the intellectual advancement of his students in the Departments of English and Fine Arts has been of a high order. Besides, he maintained a very close rapport with the students so that one may say that he helped create and sustain a new culture of relations with university students without compromising values.
Dr. Haththotuwegama was instrumental in the establishment of the Film Critics and Journalists Association of Sri Lanka and was its Founder President and introduced the film citation tradition to this country.
He finally passed away on 30th October 2009. He became a legend in his own lifetime.
Mr. Gamini Abeysinghe
Gamini whilst in his last years in school acted in the movie ‘Daskama’. He wnt on to act in nine other movies that became very popular. Now living in England he continues his interest in drama and films and has produced several tele dramas.
Mr. M. L. Cyril Dharmawadena
Cyril is the second of the Dharmawardena brothers at Richmond. Whilst the eldest “MLD” shone at Cricket, Cyril or “MLC” made a name for himself in drama, cinema and tele-drama.
Mr. M. A. U. Chandrasiri
He was known by the affectionate name ‘MAU’ was a Queen’s Scout and became well known after his memorable performance in the drama ‘Kalagola’ produced by Dr. Hattotuwegama whilst in school. After leaving school he continued his interest in theater and continued to play the role ‘Kalagola’ in the public performance by the same name.