My first encounter with Shakespeare’s Othello was when my father took me to the light-rehearsal of Ernest Macintyre’s production of Othello at the Lionel Wendt theater. I think it was the year 1968. I must have been around 8 years of age. I remember roaming about in the isles during rehearsals. That production was special. Because it included Chithrasena in the cast, of course as Othello. This Sri Lankan version of Othello was inspired by the 1964 John Dexter production played at Old Vic Theater, London which featured Lawrence Olivier and Maggie Smith in the lead roles.
It was my father’s first involvement in the English language theater. He created the costumes and the ornaments for Chithrasena. Viranga (Nihal Rathnayaka) wrote in one of the pre publicity articles “Mac has given top designer Somabandhu a break. He will be responsible for all the costumes and ornaments worn by Chitharsena”. The production had a dual cast. The first cast included the famous actor duo Winston and Irangani Serasingha as Othello and Desdimona and Percy Colin Thome as Lago while the second cast being Chitharasena and Sheila Gunawardhana as the ill fated couple and as the villain.
Apart from them, there were others like, Mark Antony Fernando of Sinhabahu fame as Montego, Sisil Kothalawala as Bianca (I only learnt this mush later when she came to see my Othello ballet at the Wendt) and Filz Roy de Mel (either as the Duke or Brabantio?). But, all I can remember from the play are the only these instances. Cassio swinging Bianca around him as she ran up to the .... .... stage from a side door, the fight between Cassio and Montano and a faint glimpse of Chitharsena uncle hanging onto a wing and shouting (possibly in the third act).
Years later, when my father got me to frequent the British Council library, I found pictures and the writings about the famed John Dexter production as well as various other productions of Othello. I was so taken up with this play (specially the characters of the two antagonists) that I started looking for every material on Othello. Thus I was able to gather information about great Othellos from Edmund Kean to Fishburu; John Philip Kemble, Henry Irving (better known for his Hamlet) John John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, Orson Wells, Richard Buston, James Earl Jones from the west and Stanislavski and later Sergei Bondarchuk of Russia, and of course Olivier drew my attention in particular. His 1965 film version (of the Dexter stage production) very theater like, inspired me a lot.
My own Othello dance drama was premiered in 2015 at the British School Theater as passed of the Colombo as part of the Colombo International Theater Festival. M.Safeer director of the festival invited me to do a production for the festival. I accepted it once, for the occasion was ideal as it was theater festival. Secondly, I had already been doing my paperwork on the ballet. So my third Shakespearian ballet was now in the making.
The ballet was centered around Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Emelia. I disregarded some characters just as in my earlier Shakespearian ballets. Thus, the roles of Rodrigo, Brabantio, Montano and the Duke were omitted from my scenario. But, Cassio and Bianca were used as supporting roles, mainly to prove the handkerchief story.