There is much to beguile in this musical adaptation of Mustapha Matura’s reworking of John Millington Synge’s play Playboy of the Western World. It is strongly performed, well put together and looks great. There are, however, problems. While the show is billed in publicity as ‘a feel-good Caribbean calypso musical’, I am not sure that it is indeed a musical, rather than a play with music – the songs can seem few and far between – and the feel is not entirely good.
Stranger Ken arrives in a quiet fishing village claiming to be on the run because he has killed his father. The villagers are fascinated, the women particularly, because he is handsome and charming, and everyone seems improbably inclined to overlook his homicidal history. Peggy, who runs the local rum bar, goes so far as to welcome him into her establishment and give him a job. Romance is definitely on the cards. All seems to be going well for Ken until his bloodied and bandaged father turns up alive and seeking revenge. Bizarrely, the villagers turn on Ken, not for being a murderer, but for not being a murderer, and the plot meanders a little loosely towards an ending that, with a sudden and out-of-the-blue gearchange, carries the threat of brutal physical violence, and delivers actual brutal emotional violence. There are plenty of laughs along the way, but the roots of the comedy are very dark, and the story is tragicomic.
As a consequence, some of the breezy calypso style music can seem at times to have been slapped on top of the story, particularly at the end when things get grim. On the other hand Ken, beautifully sung by Durone Stokes, gets some ballads with real emotional punch and Peggy’s songs, also well delivered by Gleanne Purcell-Brown, have an unsettling, shifting harmonic language that perfectly expresses her own otherness within the life of the village. The live pit band creates a great feel of looseness and spontaneity throughout that suits the music well.
On the whole, as energetic cast works hard to keep things feeling light and the ensemble is tight both dramatically and musically. Angela Wynter, a larger-than-life Mama Benin, is a force of nature. Matura’s rich and inventive text is delivered by all with a real feel for the poetry and musicality of the words.
At the end of the day this is a show that, although really very enjoyable in its parts, could benefit as a whole from making up its mind more about what it is.
Writer -Mustapha Matura
Composers – Clement Ishmael & Dominique Le Gendre
Lyricists – Clement Ishmael, Nicolas Kent, Dominique Le Gendre, Mustapha Matura
Co-directors – Clement Ishmael, Nicolas Kent, Dominique Le Gendre
Choreographer & Movement Director – Ingrid Mackinnon
Set Designer – Michael Taylor
Costume Designer – Natalie Pryce
Musical Director – Ian Oakley
Ivy – Elizabeth Ayodele
Mac – Guy Burgess
Mikey – McCallam Connell
Stanley – Derek Elroy
Fisherman Pepe – Nathaniel Morrison
Jim Neil Patterson
Peggy – Gleanne Purcell-Brown
Schoolgirl Iris – Tendai Rinomhota
Ken – Durone Stokes
Alice – Rachel Summers
Phil – Chris Tummings
Mama Benin – Angela Wynter