Checking out Checkpoint (and giving the BIG finger)

I judge how good a production is by how badly I wish I had been a part of it, after having seen the play.  

Last night’s performance of “Checkpoint” was, for me, probably the most meaningful piece of theatre I have seen anywhere. (And I MEAN anywhere – not just in Colombo). If everybody in this country could see and understand this play in their own language, I would imagine that Sri Lanka would be a much better place to live in.

I do not want to spoil it for you. All I am saying is: go, see. You will not be sorry. Quite apart from the fantastic acting and the amazingly novel creative direction, the content is so relevant to what Sri Lanka is going through today that everybody MUST see this play. (If I could drag Archammi with her broken femur out of bed and into the British School auditorium for today’s final performance at seven-thirty, I would, but seeing as she’s already “broken a leg” so to speak… okay, sorry, that won’t happen again. Now where was I?)    

The production consists of “three strangely normal plays”. The first play is the now almost-famous one-man play “Last Bus Ekay Kathawa” with the naturally gifted Gehan De Chickera. The second play is a highly original and highly disturbing take on 24 hours of news from the 14th of August 2006, using nothing but lines from actual news stories. The last play is a piece of forum theatre which is a type of theatre where the actors act out a stem which builds a situation upto a crisis and then the audience input is sought on how best to resolve the situation. 

Last night’s forum theatre piece was on the theme of the ethnic conflict and the stem outlined a specific thorny issue faced by five characters in Wellawatte. The actors in this piece dealt with the difficult subject matter with fantastic insight into their characters’ mindsets. And get this: two of them happened to have argued and thrashed out similar issues on this blog, and also on indi.ca. (See Sophist and Aadhavan’s comments on “Give the Sinhalese a Fucking Break”). I was told by Sophist that he used the blog discussions to help prepare for the role.  

So… what’s my point in saying all this? Well… I think at this point I’d like to extend a hearty meaty middle finger to all those cynics who keep criticizing some members of the community – especially the blog community – for not “doing” anything, but just talking. As indi has also pointed out, speaking out on contentious issues and facilitating a forum for discussion IS doing something. It influences, it changes opinions.

Aadhavan and Sophist first disagreed, and resolved their disagreements on-line. Yesterday, I saw them recreate the same process on stage in front of an audience of three hundred people. Personally, I’d like to think that the the process of discussing these issues at length helped the actors add great depth and sensitivity to their characters who appeared very real, and as the producers put it, “strangely normal”. This is acting without a script mind you; they are making it up as they go along. The final result was seamless and natural and you, as a member of the audience, felt like you were looking right into the life and experience of the characters. I felt it was a testament, not only to the actors’ skill, but also to their sensitive understanding of the issues at hand, and the mental processes of real people. The best part is, they transferred this understanding to the audience, by providing a window to the situation of The Other Ethnic Community. 

Anyone who was there and did not count that as “doing something”, probably does not understand the power of communication.

The need of the hour is to have something that does exactly this job of communication on a larger scale – i.e. the mass media. The Sri Lanka Armed Forces are running a highly effective and visible campaign on TV and press at the moment. I am sure it is working for them. The rest of us badly need a communication campaign that brings people together, because the Sri Lanka Armed Forces campaign can hardly be expected to appeal to the Sri Lankan Tamil community, try as it might to do this by showing a soldier helping an old lady up the steps of a Hindu Temple.

I wonder whether Checkpoint would work on TV?

Stages Theatre Group Website 

6 thoughts on “Checking out Checkpoint (and giving the BIG finger)

  1. You ‘poor expats’ made the choice to leave. Such is the opportunity cost…:) It was filmed yesterday so I’m sure there’ll bsomething uploaded.

  2. Hell of a show, thank Archammi for the inadvertent offering of an actual broken leg.

    Start with a brilliant actor and physical comedian, soak up the news with the grim, eerie soundtrack it really ought to have, and then talk about it.

    As you say, also well done catching the dedication of the blog conversations to learning how to listen. It was enormously powerful to see Sri Lanka’s real feelings being named publicly. There is an honest pain of experience that must be acknowledged and addressed, but hope and coexistence are not impossible. But for gosh sakes: talk.

  3. Yeah liz – as Indi keeps saying as well, words are really powerful. If we can find a way to communicate the pathos of Checkpoint outside of the theatre medium and maybe in the mass media, I think we might be in the proper reconciliation business.

    People need to talk and be exposed to all the viewpoints without being given a chance to shout them down. I was surprised at the amount of flak Jagath’s character took given that he is, in fact, representative of the majority.

    It was also heartening that people were willing to draw the distinction between terrorist and tamil. What worries me is whether it was just a veneer of political correctness which will nto transfer itself into their daily lives. I sincerely hope not – and hope is all we can do.

    If I had to give up everything and perform this piece for the rest of my life, I would. If it helps bring about some sort of resolution. Sigh…at least we feel we’ve done our bit.

  4. Oh this was a great post with comments until Sophist had to start quoting Indi! Sophist – I think you’re in Lurve with the gawky four-eyed skinny hairy “Tamil” featured wannabe.

    However, I am impressed that you have a life outside Indi’s …. blog🙂

    Good for you. When this “Checkpoint” thing does get onto videoblog let us (that’s right, us loser expats who earn more money than you ever will and don’t want to pick up guns or make money out of the war – you are such a rude prat) know.

    I think I might arrange a showing of it along with a reading of the David Blacker book and of course a more Tamil perspective.

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