Audience member on stage
Beyond Borders is a formerly British initiative that is now run independently by Sri Lankan youth. This is perhaps a metaphor. In their latest piece of forum theatre, Beyond Borders tried to explore patriotism but instead, as one audience member pointed out, explored more a vague sense of entitlement. There is a class (myself included) who almost personally dislikes the government without entirely knowing why. There is a sense of moral indignation which sputters and fizzles in public, but still it means. This, perhaps, is why Lasantha David was tied to a chair.
In forum theatre the cast acts out a story and then the audience comes on stage to perhaps act it out a different way. In my experience the end never changes. In this case, a General’s son David does not like the government but ends up working with them anyways. After a drunken rant against the great leader at an advertising party he ends up tortured and probably killed. This ending, I think, is completely improbable. I have ranted against the great leader and even dressed up as him with no more ill effects than a lifetime ban from the Colombo Rowing Club.
I think there is desire this generation has for their struggles to be of the sort that Richard De Soyza died for, but todays anglophile journalists and playwrights are ignored more than eliminated.
Reasoning with the brat
As an audience pointed out, the character David was standing on pride more than principle. He was acting, basically, like a spoiled schoolboy. Indeed, there are many people who would have been connected or in government but instead have to content themselves with business dominance and the ability to get an education elsewhere. Like many members of the cast and audience.
Where the boy David goes wrong, however, is that he only petulantly insists that something is wrong without A) examining that assumption and B) doing something about it. Many opponents of this government can’t coherently express why nor do they do much about it. This could mean that they are simply biased for personal reasons or crying sour grapes.
The contempt of the crowd
As such, David isn’t a compelling character, but he is indentifiable. The English Speaking Elite whiny brat. I think it is, however, a particular conceit of the Ese that the price of dissension is death, as if dissent is so deadly serious. It is for some, but not for the casual, and not so much now as it used to be. Under Premadasa, yes, people were disappeared en masse. Nowadays? Not so much. During the war things were dicey, but now the government doesn’t seem to fear for its very survival, and thus doesn’t strike out so viciously.
This is not to say that things aren’t wrong, but I don’t think the old elite was right. Ideas like the peace negotiations are discredited and leaders like Ranil are decrepit. Furthermore, the current shift is part of a long move out of Anglo dominance to Sinhala rule, something largely inexorable and with some force of justice behind it.
There are ideas from the old elite that are important, like democracy, institutions, international ties, business efficiencies, etc. This is somewhat obvious since the education system which prepares youth for a local language government service based on connections actually leaves them unemployed. Everything except the economy has been localized, and that’s probably the most important thing of all.
The Minister was the most entertaining character
These ideas, however, have to be rebuilt, rebranded and resold. They are no longer self-evident, thus David style petulance and attachment to the ‘good old days’ is not really the way to do. It won’t get you killed, but it certainly makes it hard to make a living, and it doesn’t serve the country.
Which is to say, it was an interesting play, as much for what it said about the cast and the audience (and myself) as for what it said about ‘patriotism’.
for more theatre, the finale of Act Before You Think (improv) is this Friday at the Warehouse Project