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By Dilshan Boange Veteran dramatist Jith Peiris’s production of British playwright Philip King’s classic comedy See how they run was a theatrical treat that got my rib tickled and sides splitting with its uproarious hilarity on the 24th of September at the Wendt. Carrying the slogan ‘its chaos at the vicarage’ this production marked the debut of 21 year old Trudy Herft’s directorial craft. Which in my opinion was a smashing success considering how the caste and their theatrical functions delivered a simply memorable performance. One of the lesser positive remarks I suppose one could make about the play from an aspect of lingual concerns would be how the British accents that were projected at times switched off in more intense dramatic situations, such as of Suranee Gomez who played Ida the irrepressible maid whose cockney had its slipups here and there, yet her ‘sparkplug’ presence really made up for it in every way. But on this line of discussion, the vocal deliveries of Michele Herft who played the role of Mrs. Penelope Toop had a consistent and sustained accent projected throughout the play. I was in fact asking myself was it really necessary? Why would the director make such a call with accenting? I believe it did add the element of ‘Britishness’ to a certain degree successfully, and set the scene more in line with being in Britain of the latter part of the 20th century. Kanishka Herat whom I also saw act in He comes from Jaffna, delivered a fantastic performance as the Bishop of Lax aka Penelope Toop’s ‘Uncle Dudley’. The elderliness and placidity of a venerable old Bishop came out in his acting very convincingly while the necessary switching of gears as the ‘chaos’ began to reach its varied levels was deftly achieved by this young actor whose talents will no doubt be seen more of in the English drama circuits in days ahead. And the puritanical Ms. Skillon and her cantankerousness had an overbearing sense that could make you feel weighed down, which needless to say says how well the actress Carlene De Fry-Devraj pulled off her role, especially since her antics under the influence of cooking sherry marking her fall from her seat of moral superiority did invoke some sympathy for her predicament. The story presented a classic case of mistaken identity and playing on the precariousness of ‘presumptions’, since the poor Bishop is made to be a party to all the ruckus of run and catch when there seem to be one too many vicars in the vicarage of the Rev. Lionel Toop who is even denied of his identity at one point by his own wife, who of course was under duress by the Nazi escapee garbed in a clerical outfit held a gun to Mrs. Toop making her pretend to be his wife. The idea of identity and its indivisibility from common symbols such as clothing comes out very pronouncedly in the play which makes one think of how much society can construct upon the individual means of ‘caging’ by virtue of an outfit!
The play also indicates very strongly of how notions of propriety when not inherent to free spirited beings like Penelope Toop can create situations that result in innocuous deceptions that can spiral into utter chaos when compounded with crises like a prisoner of war escapee forcibly taking refuge in a vicarage thrown in to confusion with the unannounced early arrival of guests (the Bishop and the Rev. Arthur Humphrey) who being oblivious to what is going end up as hapless victims who are made to perform in the hilarious chaos. Hats off to Jith Peiris and Trudy Herft for proving theatre lovers in Colombo See how they run a production worthy of a standing ovation.