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Grease Yaka Returns, a black comedy heavy on the ‘black’

Grease Yaka Returns is the much darker sequel to Ruwanthi de Chickera’s hugely successful Grease Yaka. Written and Directed by Nishantha de Silva and Rajitha Hettiarachchi, the sequel is more or less a standalone production; while it retains a few conceptual parallels to its predecessor, the play is entirely enjoyable on its own.

The play was staged August 17 – 19 at the Lionel Wendt Theatre.

AnandaDrama’s latest, the team behind bang on hits such as Alles in Wonderland, Dracula!, Affair at Ward Place Hotel and Picket Republic, Grease Yaka Returns is a social satire if there ever was one. It is a black comedy featuring an ensemble cast of 30 actors dynamically exploring the consequences and impact of fear in society within its 75 minute run time.

The narrative is rather simple and it follows certain plotlines which weave in and out, some even crossing paths on occasion. Each storyline is representative of a segment of society, all dealing with the same issue of fear and how it permeates their lives.

The titular Grease Yaka, who once terrorised our nation, is back and the tales run rampant and amok; is it a naked man covered entirely in grease? Is it a dark skinned man, or even woman with mystical powers? Or is it a disease plaguing only a very specific part of society?

The fable of ‘Grease Yaka’ takes on a life of its own, one rumour at a time, as paranoia lends itself to intense distrust and fanaticism. What was once merely folklore and gossip, leaves us with something that is now a mutated body of beliefs, grotesque and unrecognisable.

We witness an exploration into how society deals with the unknown, how the media latches on to what is the latest topic of discussion in a bid to remain relevant and on trend and how consumer culture makes it so that we are then surrounded in an all-encompassing bubble of fear and uncertainty continuously fed into our subconscious.

We see how the political landscape shifts and moulds itself around any current issue, further creating chaos, and encouraging radicalism. Preconceived notions and prejudices jump on the hype train adding to the layered complexity that was literally created out of thin air.

The play is well paced, complete with slick dialogue in both English and Sinhala, starting off by lulling the audience into a false sense of security; supplemented well with hilarious conversation, as it gets progressively more horrifying and deeply profound.

Reminiscent of Sri Lanka’s historical conflict of discrimination, the playwrights’ confidence in the audience to grasp their meaning is admirable as they absolutely do not mollycoddle and hold your hand through their narrative; you are expected to grasp the little intricacies meticulously laid out for you.

A simplistic set design, minimalist lighting and a muted colour palette set the tone for the production, complete with a fantastic score composed by Ranil Gunawardena. The play’s precise choreography courtesy of Jayampathy Guruge was outstanding.

Speaking about the monumentally short time (in only 6 weeks) the show was put together, Co-director and writer Rajitha Hettiarachchi said,

“It was a huge task to accomplish within such a limited period of time, scheduling was difficult but the cast and crew came together in the end,” a testament to the talent and experience behind its making.

Grease Yaka, while a topical issue in 2014 when it was first featured is no longer a top of the mind concern. The years gone by have ensured that the fear factor behind it has somewhat declined, if not entirely.

However, the creators behind the play were not concerned. Co-director and writer Nishantha de Silva provided,

“We’ve been thinking about bringing it back for a long time, the time between 2014 and now was where we wanted to come up with the right story for today” and how “in the end, the story isn’t about Grease Yaka; he is merely a tool to give way to a much larger concept,” added Rajitha Hettiarachchi.

Devastatingly hilarious and positively horrifying, Grease Yaka Returns is an astute and pensive look inwards at the volatile nature of the hive mind, often resulting in uncritical conformity.

 

Review by Dimithri Wijesinghe

Pics by Indika Handuwala