A woman of two worlds, Thusitha Jayasundera

She’s probably the only Asian working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and was noted for her performance in ‘The Comedy Of Errors” . THUSITHA JAYASUNDERA tells JERRY PINTO more about herself and her career Halfway through Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’, an exchange occurs between two sisters which would be distasteful to any woman of the 20th century — and perhaps to some in the 16th century as well— considering the fact that England was then being ruled by Good Queen Bess who knew where she liked her men and kept them there, by most accounts. Luciana and Adriana are discussing the latter’s husband’s possible falling off in affection and Claudia offers her sister some advice

Adriana: Why should their liberty than ours be more?

 Luciana: Because their business still lies out of door.

Adriana: Look, when I serve him so, he takes it ill.

 Luciana: O, know he is the bridle of thy will.

Adriana: There’s none but asses will be bridled so.

tIt is at this point that you become aware of Thusitha Jayasundera’s acting ability as Luciana. As she launches into a speech about how “The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls, are their males subjects’ and at their controls,” she gives those so-unsayable, so-unthinkable lines a world-weary balance, a certain cynical poise. She is a woman of the world who knows what she is talking about; Adriana may rave on about how only asses could be controlled by men, but Luciana knows what ground realities are all about. It’s economics that matters in that cloistered little town of Ephesus and, for a while, you can see Luciana as a woman of the world, our world and theirs, simultaneously.

It’s one of the performances that you remember long after the captains and the kings of the Royal Shakespeare Company— brought to India by the invitation of the British Council and by the kind courtesy of one of those big international banks which never have money for anything that doesn’t incorporate foreigners or lush production values — have gone their way. Specially because it makes her downfall a little more poignant. When she thinks her brother-in-law is courting her, actually of course, it is his twin brother, Shakespeare having gotten in there long before Manmohan Desai—she brings alive those moments of mingled passion and horror.

Thusitha’s acting career began when her elder brother attended a school play in which

she was performing. “I don’t think I had a career planned. I was just drifting along in the way many teenagers do and doing a bit of theatre in school just because, come on, that was something to do. Anyway, he came and saw the play and later said that I had talent and that it shouldn’t be wasted and decided in the manner that seems to have been patented by elder brothers that I should go to acting school in England. ”

And so he filled out her forms and generally chivvied her into fulfilling the requirements of the course. Sri Lanka was in the throes of a civil war and that eased her way to the wicked West.

She was accepted by three schools and chose the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts— or RADA as it is popularly known. “Partly because of its reputation and partly because I believe that, once you can do the classics, you can do anything,” she smiles.

Once she graduated, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company— one of the few Asians to be hired by the company. “I’m not sure if I’m the only Asian working with them right now, but I think I am,” she says.

Which may be why this very talented actress has not done as many roles as she could have, elsewhere. But she’s pragmatic about it. “Look, how many roles are there written for Asians? Hardly any. How many directors are there who have the vision to see that Hedda Gabler doesn’t have to be a blonde? Hardly any. But I haven’t done too badly any way.”

However, she does not approve of what she calls the victim syndrome. “It’s easy to ask why Anjelica Huston is playing a Cuban when there are Cuban actors, and then make a song and dance about it. But the reverse of that is why Thusitha Jayasundera should play a Greek woman when there are Greek actors? There are just actors, some good, some bad, some saleable, others not so saleable. Nationality or ethnic origin have nothing to do with it.

Thusitha doesn’t see herself as a quitter. “What’s the use if it comes easy? I plan to hang in there for as long as I can. Otherwise, I can always go back to Sri Lanka.”

As for acting back there, she has done a bit. “A really hilarious set-up in which some diplomat— perhaps it would be kinder not to mention which country— wanted to do a film and use local talent, and everything went wrong from day one.”

Her experiences with the television have been similar. “The girl running down the corridor in terror when something blows up? That’s me. The girl standing in the background? That’s me. Sneeze and you miss me,” then with a philosophical shrug, “But slowly, I think the world of the arts in Britain is beginning to acknowledge that we live in a multicultural country and that plays, films, whatever, need to represent that reality.


 Thusitha in a scene from The Bill


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