by Mustapha Matura.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Road TW9 2SA To 11 April 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 26 Mar 2.30pm, 2 Apr 7.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 17 Mar, 21 Mar 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 March.
The Orange Tree’s new management continues its new style with – style.
English dramatists around Shakespeare’s time cottoned-on to a plot device for luring Tragedy villains into a situation where they could be bumped-off. The lordly lot were entertained with a Masque. As its name suggests, such fashionable entertainments had masked participants, who could whip-off their disguises and mete-out sudden justice.
Trinidad’s traditional Masquerades (Mas for short) were holidays in the colonial year, masks, costume and action mocking colonial types. Mustapha Matura’s 1974 play is fine fun till the dramatist whips away his comic coating, leaving the sour taste of history – rather as tailor Ramjohn Gookool is struck scared when Samuel, the apprentice his wife had sacked, arrives in uniform with rifle pointed and loud threats.
But it’s a carnival joke. For the moment. Several years later, in 1963, the year after independence, Police Commissioner Samuel’s installed behind a big desk, backed by a huge portrait of the new nation’s leader, sporting the kind of smart suit he and Ramjohn could only dream of tailoring in the fifties.
Some things change little. The dominant voice remains female, whether the traditional assurance of Ramjohn’s mother with her offstage commands in the fifties, or Samuel’s wife, self-aware in vivid yellow the following decade. For her, Samuel’s power means material luxury and social one-upwomanship. Melanie La Barrie and Lori Barker show their characters know how to rule roosts with insistent voices that can assure domestic compliance.
The idea of play continues, till celebratory fire-crackers are subsumed within rifle-fire. And Rob Heanley’s sole first act White character, a friendly, sweat-stained English official ordering Ramjohn’s clothes, is contrasted by an American adviser, ensuring with cold determination that the new state eliminates opponents.
Director Pauline Randall has grown alongside playwrights like Matura. Though the masqueraders are unimpressive, using the Orange Tree’s stage awkwardly, the lighter comedy of relationships and growing shadows of responsibility are sensitively and robustly handled, Johann Myers showing Ramjohn’s unassertive side simultaneous to his enjoyment of work, and Seun Shote comically energetic as his apprentice, then coolly enjoying high office, before finally striding off, a mere walking accompaniment to his uniform and dark glasses.
Ramjohn Gookool: Johann Myers.
Samuel: Seun Shote.
Miss Gookool: Melanie La Barrie.
Frank: Victor Romero Evans.
Mr McKay/Chuck Reynolds: Rob Heanley.
Doctor/Sergeant: David Monteith.
Bishop/Mrs Banks: Llewella Gideon.
Mr Tate: Kirris Rivieré.
Mr Lyle: Kevin N Goulding.
Mrs Samuel: Lori Barker.
Director: Paulette Randall.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound: Al Ashford.
Dialect coach: Claudette Williams.