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.
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.
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…
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?
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?