Gap Theatre’s ‘Down in the Arte Farte Gully…’ – Crop Over Meets “The Expendables;” Is it time to revive Mr Harding?

The Gap Theatre wins again, this time not with an anthology of excerpts but original material based on combining discarded traditions of Barbados, ancient African cultural themes and how modernisation can hurt the natural environment.

Down in the Arte Farte Gully‘ at the Reggae Lounge was a bold undertaking which played on the Reggae Lounge’s huge space once again. Inviting the audience to become part of the play, by shifting aspects of the plot on different areas of the popular St Lawrence music scene cum playhouse.

{Original Illustration from Patrick Foster for the Gap Theatre Production} "Traditionally, the masquerade entity known as Shaggy Bear was brown in appearance because of the strips of dried banana leaves that created its form. The dried leaves also made a rustling, if not eerie sound as the masquerader spun and performed acrobatic feats. Indeed, one of the explanations for its Barbadian signature name arises from the use of the banana shag for the strips that are its principal feature. Also, the use of organic materials as masking devices, such as leaves and grasses, honours not only the cultural practices of the enslaved Africans and their Barbadian descendants, but also the traditional masquerade of their ancestors in west and central Africa. (It can be noted, for example, that it's St. Lucian equivalent is called Pai Banan, again reflecting its banana leaf manifestation)" {CLICK FOR BIGGER}

{Original Illustration from Patrick Foster for the Gap Theatre Production} “Traditionally, the masquerade entity known as Shaggy Bear was brown in appearance because of the strips of dried banana leaves that created its form. The dried leaves also made a rustling, if not eerie sound as the masquerader spun and performed acrobatic feats. Indeed, one of the explanations for its Barbadian signature name arises from the use of the banana shag for the strips that are its principal feature. Also, the use of organic materials as masking devices, such as leaves and grasses, honours not only the cultural practices of the enslaved Africans and their Barbadian descendants, but also the traditional masquerade of their ancestors in west and central Africa. (It can be noted, for example, that it’s St. Lucian equivalent is called Pai Banan, again reflecting its banana leaf manifestation)” {CLICK FOR BIGGER}

The crux of that night’s presentation was the imagined scene between a Cabinet minister, a director of Culture with a Chinese envoy and a Bajan Kadooment reveller – both Government officials missed the visual and audio cues where the Beijing diplomat’s genuine curiosity really was aimed, as for their grasp of Chinese culture, sadly, it seemed so acutely real it felt as though we were in West Terrace itself!

The language you hear Patrick Foster as the refereeing Shaggy Bear, and John Walcott‘s Spirit Rider use is as invented as Dothraki or Klingon, yet seeming more real than any patois from Castries or Roseau!

There was only one area which, while mentioned, was not highlighted enough in my view – how Barbadian gullies have become unofficial landfills for those too lazy to dispose of their refuse properly; I felt more can be added in to the script, especially since it is running to 13th September.

{IMAGE VIA: Alwyn Kirk Studios} "I'm not the devil. I'm a performance artist. Everyone shouting 'bring back Harding!!' - I figure I'll play him until they do! - excerpt from "Down in the Arte Farte Gully" Show

{IMAGE VIA: Ewan Atkinson} “I’m not the devil. I’m a performance artist. Everyone shouting ‘bring back Harding!!‘ – I figure I’ll play him until they do! – excerpt from “Down in the Arte Farte Gully” Show

How does it resemble the cinema franchise of Sylvester Stallone which cameos many action heroes to come or semi-retired? Just that, the play looked at how modern Crop Over, for better or worse (possibly to its own detriment), has put aside or amended traditions which in some cases hearken to thousands of years ago…

{IMAGE VIA: Ewan Atkinson} 'It's the twilight hour and the Sandbox Oracle sings from her Bajan soul, selections for the daybreak.' An irreverent and provocative look at the Bajan artworld, 'Down in the Arté Farté Gully' (yes, we know you love our catchy show titles!) exposes the lush undergrowth that inspires, and also the noxious garbage that challenges local artists as they reach for true freedom of expression.

{IMAGE VIA: Ewan Atkinson} ‘It’s the twilight hour and the Sandbox Oracle sings from her Bajan soul, selections for the daybreak.’ An irreverent and provocative look at the Bajan art-world, ‘Down in the Arté Farté Gully‘ (yes, we know you love our catchy show titles!) exposes the lush undergrowth that inspires, and also the noxious garbage that challenges local artists as they reach for true freedom of expression.

African/Barbadian masquerade performed its way through slavery, emancipation, colonialism and independence despite repeated attempts to outlaw it and/or strip it of its historical narratives and meanings. Yet, through the process of Creolisation, for many of theses entities, there was a merging of forms and practices and the marginalisation and submerging, as Kamau Brathwaite would argue, of key narratives, especially those that embraced spiritual meanings for the masquerade.

Be it a spirit rider or a divine vigilante or the African method of blanking one’s face and identity, these Afro-Barbadian icons have decided enough is enough and it is time for one last ride… But should they even have been set aside? In these current economic times of administrative idiocy, isn’t Nala‘s rendition of a slighted Mr Harding more appropriate than ever?

{IMAGE VIA: Ewan Atkinson} Show starts at 7:30 pm sharp! Tickets available at the door but advanced tickets recommended via www.ticketpal.com and all ticketpal locations.

{IMAGE VIA: Ewan Atkinson} Show starts at 7:30 pm sharp! Tickets available at the door but advanced tickets recommended via www.ticketpal.com and all ticketpal locations.

When buildings are padlocked without consent in the manner of an old Anansi tale and just as ridiculously opened on the promise of money yet to arrive – all the more ironic as the powers that be seek to tax Bajans yet ignore their own debts, do we not need the righteous indignation of John Walcott‘s Steel Donkey character?

Clearly, Amanda Cumberbatch – both director and playwright, plans boldly and ambitiously to step up to the legacy of Kamau Brathwaite? Her insight and psychological interplay of Harding Vs Steel Donkey as if in a TV programme including behind the commercial break badinage (with Patrick Foster’s hilarious encapsulement of a Make-Up artiste), shows she is more than capable of rising to such a steep challenge!

The play is also not merely a theatrical production, there are mugs, prints and other memorabilia for purchase like any metropolitan production found in Toronto, London or New York. But the nice part it is professionalism and enterprise which is home-grown, so when you going?

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