A programme to commemorate Lionel Wendt on the 75th anniversary of his death

Lionel Wendt, Harold Peiris and early days of the Lionel Wendt Theatre


The Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund (LWMF) together with the ESME Trust plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the death of Lionel Wendt on 19th December 2019 at the Lionel Wendt Memorial Theatre, at 7pm, with a programme on Lionel Wendt, Harold Peiris & the early days of the Lionel Wendt Theatre.

Lionel Wendt, who died at the young age of 44, was a leading figure in cultural activity in Sri Lanka at a period when it was ‘torn between the death rattles of the Empire and a human appraisal of the untapped values of Ceylon’. This appraisal, by the distinguished Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who arrived in Colombo when Wendt was in his late twenties, obviously appreciated his deep commitment to the culture of the country even while he was steeped in contemporary artistic movements in Europe.

The 43 Group of artists first met in his house, where the Lionel Wendt Theatre now stands. His artistry is best known now through his photographs which burst upon Colombo in 1940 through the Exhibition "Camera-Work".

Following his untimely death his great friend Harold Peiris set up the Memorial Fund which built the Art Centre that has been a seminal influence in Sri Lankan Theatre for well over 60 years. Harold Peiris encouraged a wide range of talent to make use of not just the theatre but his own home, Alfred House, in the Road of that name. Many future stars of Sinhala Theatre cut their teeth there, while it was a home away from home to many artists who helped to bring English Theatre closer to local culture and traditions.

Amongst these was Iranganie Serasinghe, who has also been interviewed by Rajiva Wijesinha in the series ‘The Past is Another Country’, by the Croatian film-maker Daniel Ridicki. The first in that series was an interview with Fr Lionel Peiris, son of Harold, who talks about the establishment of the Theatre, about Lionel Wendt after whom he was named, and about the artistic life at Alfred House where his parents held open house (his mother Peggy was the sister of George Keyt).

The ESME Trust, named after Mrs Esme Wickremesinghe who was born in the same year as

Lionel Wendt, is housed in Alfred House Road, next to the premises where sadly Alfred House

has been replaced by six other houses. The Trust is dedicated to celebrating the impact of social and cultural personalities associated with the place, and has collaborated with the LWMF on this programme at the Theatre.

In addition to the interview with Fr Lionel, the programme will include a presentation on Wendt’s artistic heritage by the distinguished architect Channa Daswatte, and an account of practice and performance at Alfred House and the Lionel Wendt Theatre by Jerome de Silva, who has been a director, actor and trainer, most prominently at the Theatre, for nearly 50 years.

After the presentations there will be a panel discussion moderated by Rajiva Wijesinha, at which Fr Lionel Peiris too will participate, followed by an opportunity for questions.

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