Arena: ArtsEtc’s. Linda Deane assesses Dramaworks’ revival of Derek Walcott’s Pantomime [Attn, PG-13: Language, Adult Situations]

{NB Credit due where credit deserved, my profound gratitude to Linda Deane of ArtsEtc for stepping in when my ankle could not, this is her view on the Pantomime gala at FCH last week; PLUS – All pix by William Cummins}

IT was like being entertained by two matadors.

Frank Collymore Hall was the bullring; the ?fight? was the newly founded Dramaworks premiere of Derek Walcott?s play, Pantomime; and for just short of two hours, Patrick Foster, Simon Alleyne, and their characters, pulled and pushed with and against each other, taking fierce turns at swirling their cloaks about the place, and at the audience.

Foster (as embittered, embattled white hotelier Harry Trewe) and Alleyne (as his tell-it-like-it-is black employee Jackson Phillip) lit up that bullring. The set itself was stylised and minimalist: a gazebo on the beachfront of Trewe?s guest house, blinding sand and unrelenting blue off the coast of Tobago ? all cleverly suggested rather than actually depicted.

It was tough to know what to expect when, in the first scene, Foster’s character tumbles onto the stage, false-starting his way through a song. Only when Jackson arrives with the breakfast tray tut-tutting and looking at his watch, do we get a hint of what?s to follow: A steadily rising tempest of duelling forces, blowing first one way then the other, as the two actors immerse themselves in Walcott?s play which itself subversively reinterprets the Defoe classic Robinson Crusoe.

Trewe wants Jackson to help him with his plans to offer guests light-hearted ?nightly entertainment??song, dance and home truths comfortably disguised in jokes: pantomime. Very reluctantly, Jackson gets drawn in, and when he does, turns the proposed Crusoe theme on its head and runs amok with it. He forces Trewe, and all of us, to re-imagine Crusoe as a shipwrecked African explorer, colonising the white cannibal, Friday, with African history, tradition and salvation. Trewe wants no truck with that and the anger that ensues opens up the doors for an outpouring of truth for both boss and employee.

Walcott?s play might make you writhe in your seat or sit on the edge of it as you contemplate what this reversal of history means or could mean. Truths are delivered, with humour, plenty of it in fact, but also harshly and without. There is language: clever, extemporised, faked, classical, creole?and adult. At strategic and dramatic intervals, the F-word and the N-word abound but, as the disclaimers point out, it?s vital to the integrity of the play. Look out, also, for the massacre of a parrot! And scenes, such as when Jackson ?swims? ashore or interacts with a portrait of Trewe’s estranged wife, that have a smart improv feel about them. Indeed, the whole production has a very smart improv, risked feel to it.

All this, though, you should check out and judge for yourself. It?s worth the price of a ticket. What Dramaworks has presented here as first offering, in association with the Cave Hill Theatre Workshop and with Rob Leyshon as director, is rousing theatre that brings the work of a Caribbean literary master closer within our reach.

Indeed, Derek Walcott was among the guests at Friday?s premiere, along with the production?s patron, Sir Hilary Beckles, and grande dame of Barbadian arts, Cynthia Wilson. Sadly, there were more empty spaces than bums on seats in FCH, although when you closed your eyes and listened to the sustained applause after act one and at the close of the play, you could have sworn the place was packed to capacity.

Auctioneer Nicholas Forde and his assistants lent a further dramatic touch to the night?s proceedings at a fundraiser held afterwards for the fledgling drama company. In all $5,000.00 was raised through the auction of luxury items including dinners for two, a Calgaro designer necklace, coffee table books, an exotic potted plant, island getaways to Peach and Quiet, Palm Island in the Grenadines, and Jolly Beach in Antigua, a nude painting by Patrick Foster himself, dinner for six at your home courtesy chef Derek Went, and a beauty makeover by U.S makeup artist Duane Sevelin.

Pantomime, starring Patrick Foster and Simon Alleyne, directed by Rob Leyshon – continues at Frank Collymore Hall this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 20 to 22, with the student matinee on Monday, March 23.

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