“Sarah: Mother Of the Nation” – Anachronisms, Condescension and Discourtesy: Is it worth it?

This is Hilary Beckles latest epistle to the pantheon of Barbados’ plethora of National Heroes – some like historian Trevor Marshall, feel there’s a glut of such people (in his view, only Bussa and Sarah Ann Gill qualify for the Right Excellent) – each play emerges almost like an annual event… There’s been “Sobie,” (Sir Garry Sobers); “Monument To Moses,” (Sir Grantley Adams); “Blessed” a look at Bussa’s rebellion of 1816; “Precious” (Samuel Jackson Prescod) and the scrutiny of the late Errol W. Barrow in “The Redemption of Sister Dinah” apart from the latest salvo.

This Web-Magazine sought photos on the dramatic re-enactment (sic) and only received one up to Online Publication, and has used other file photo data and has tentatively reached an accord with some members of UWI’s dramatic community, please note? My Nikon Coolpix L19 has a no-flash mode referred to as “Museum” setting, it does not disturb and can snap quietly thank you! Prefer to try and muddle my own shots, please?

FILE PHOTO: Simon Alleyne in "monument To Moses"

FILE PHOTO: Simon Alleyne in "monument To Moses" {Courtesy SA/Alyson Holder}

The play has two modern scenes bookending the so-called historical data, but Professor Beckles’ research as a UWI Pro-Vice Chancellor appears to be woefully lacking… Hilti’s larger construction vehicles, to the best of my knowledge, became popular in 2006 or thereabouts; while the use of Taliban as a derogatory term for Islamic worshippers only came to prominence during 9/11 which means the period of 2001 onwards… Yet both references were used as doctrine in a depiction of Barbados in 1995? Oh dear! If anyone has clarification, there is a Comments box under this article, ok?

FILE PHOTO: Patrick Foster in another period piece

FILE PHOTO: Patrick Foster in another period piece {Courtesy PF}

All is not negative! Let me deal with the better cast first… Patrick Foster as the slimy Grimes who lusted for Ann Gill, as she was known at first, had a very convincing “white Bajan” accent and his lusting for the character in spite of Marcia Ashby’s portrayal (more on that further in) showed true acting skills on his part! Simon Alleyne if he decided to give up acting could easily open a Church and start a collection as a Preacher, his depiction as the apocryphal Methodist Minister, the Reverend Smith, was humourous and yet moving as the man of the cloth who sought to inspire Sarah Ann Gill.

Mina in full period gear (Courtesy Collette Applewhaite)

Mina in full period gear (Courtesy Collette Applewhaite)

Collette Applewhaite as Mina along with Kenneth “Jack” Lewis as Mingo were very convincing in their historical allusions and their depictions hinted at why some black Bajans have mixed attitudes towards racial equality even now, very realistic indeed. Mina’s apprehension yet desire for being accepted in her own right. While Mingo claiming to be just shuffling along until his Universe has been distorted – did he attack Grimes? Or was he just displaying his grief at his loss? The ambiguity adds to what juice one can extract from this dry piece.

Vilmore Johnson as the returning national in Construction is very real as a young person confused in their history and wanting to raze all buildings which were designed before 1966. Michael Taitt and Benjamin Drakes as his staff were hilarious, an alcoholic Muslim? Strange thing is, I know a few just so!

Now to look at Doll (Sarah’s mother) as portrayed by Sonia Williams and the Title Character as mangled by Marcia Ashby… I understand that Sarah Ann Gill was a Free Coloured and therefore it is a natural tendency to look for a light-skinned girl to depict the Methodist Heroine, but I feel Sonia for all of her rich complexion should have been the true Right Excellent freedom fighter.


L to R; Simon Alleyne/Rev. Smith, Marcia Ashby/Ann Gill & Collette Applewhaite as Mina before Church is burned by Grimes and planters (Courtesy: Play's Director Harclyde Walcott)

Doll is a slave still because Grimes wanted to have a hold on Sarah, but it did not work – in fact, it seemed to be a catalyst for the opposite. Doll herself while wishing to comply with the mores of that era, nevertheless sought to be a quiet rebel – like when she had Mina and her lover Jupiter perform a Christian wedding. (How ironic they sought to embrace Christianity, yet nowhere in the New Testament did Jesus decry slavery – only Moses in the Old Testament demanded from the slavemaster Egyptians,Let my people go!“)

Marcia Ashby as Sarah had what I call “a condescending simper” throughout the whole play, I feel the real Sarah Ann would be far more humble in reality, yet Ashby seemed to ooze this veneer of how marvellous I am to be a National Heroine? By the end of the play I was praying with Reverend Smith too, that the spirit of the real Sarah Ann would smack some sense into Ashby’s head!

Another inadequacy in explaining the story of the history is where did Sarah get her money to build? How did Mina come to be able to read a eulogy in the end of the drama, when others at church could not read? Please note, in reality – Sarah Ann’s husband left her money when he died, while part of the reason the white plantocracy here hated her so violently is that she sought to teach all blacks to read and write which would put a serious dent in slavery then.

Yet none of this was mentioned in a by-the-way exposition as would be recommended by a Literary Luminary, say like George Lamming? In the end, if you do go to the remaining nights of “Sarah: Mother of the Nation” it is to enjoy character portrayals by everyone except the Main Character and certainly not for the history which was butchered like a Disney adaptation of a popular Classic.

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5 Responses

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  1. f y i- Kenneth jack lewis not ‘Keith’

  2. Will do, sir! But good gosh, no comments, remarks on assessment? Is Hil’s hold that strangulatious?

  3. Quite an honest review Ian! I am sorry that you were not able to get the pics you required due to restrictions. This is clearly one of Prof. Beckles shortest plays and he had to take some liberties with the story since among all the national heroes she is still an enigma!

    Your comments about the lead actress have been echoed by some who saw the play and were not too impressed by the acting but on the other hand some have said this was probably Beckles most simplest work and the story was easier to follow.

    I hope that the next production is well casted and that the story is simplistic and entertaining. I hope you can be there to cover the whole process from rehearsal to performance night!

  4. It was a good performance but some way down the line it was a bit difficult to understand ,all my years of growing up i would hear about Hilary Beckles and his good work, so i highly believe that the performance could have enhanced alot more ,but the script needs to be worked on . It was quite serious but still a funny play and that was really intresting and u had no idea what was coming next.

  5. Tell us what you REALLY think. 😉


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