“Comments on House of Landship in light of Cave Hill” by Margaret Gill

Dear Editor:

Leonard St. Hill‘s assertion at the end of his article in a Sunday newspaper disturbed me and set me thinking that I would write a few comments on Winston Farrell’s play. Not that Farrell’s award-winning “House of Landship” which I saw last weekend does not deserve more than a few comments, but I have papers from an exam to assess and a graduate seminar to prepare to give.

St Hill’s assertion quoted here is that “No more public dialogue is necessary to convince anybody that the time has come to end for “freeness” as the national culture in which enterprise, initiative, productivity are missing and the meaning of independence is lost [,] as well as sacrifice[,] which is unknown.”

Farrell's play was very well written and very professionally played and directed. It was refreshing after the BCC play I saw two nights before it and from which I walked out at half time because of the latter's real weaknesses in scripting, directing and self-congratulatory acting by the young students. (Icil Phillips does a good review of that play in which she echoes most of the terms I used to described it independent of her and provides good evidence for her conclusions, though I would have graded it lower based on her own premises. This can be found on Facebook theatre reviews.)

Farrell’s play was very well written and very professionally played and directed. It was refreshing after the BCC play I saw two nights before it and from which I walked out at half time because of the latter’s real weaknesses in scripting, directing and self-congratulatory acting by the young students. (Icil Phillips does a good review of that play in which she echoes most of the terms I used to described it independent of her and provides good evidence for her conclusions, though I would have graded it lower based on her own premises. This can be found on Facebook theatre reviews.)

So why do I find any convergence between St Hill’s statement and Farrell’s play? it has to do with Farrell’s aim for the play of it being an analysis of leadership. I am afraid I find the same failures to transform thinking about leadership, and by definition followership in both the play’s treatment of leadership and that offered by Mr. St. Hill.

In his haste to close the dialogue on the future of university education Mr. St Hill would have us be convinced, not satisfied that his argumentation lays out all the critical issues, but convinced. And he really intends that we should be, and on the basis of his pronoucement close the dialogue. This speaks to the fervour with which all the characters in House of Landship seek to be led by someone as they disregard the significant contribution they make collectively to the continued existence of the Ship.

This emphasis on the stature or otherwise personal power of the speaker determining outcomes, such as the case of a Lennie St. Hill, also speaks to how the man from over-in-away, the long lost brother of the dying commander saves the day in House of Landship. Farrell, despite his evident consciousness to gender issues, does place the resolution of the crisis, symbolised by the dance of the Maypole, in the hands of the went-way Bajan, even though he has his female “leader” make the appropriate noises at the end.

Some might suggest I equivocate about “convince“, but I really do not. If our community had reached the level where we no longer have need of socialised education at all levels, then we might all be making more thorough argumentation than we presently produce on this issue of affordability of tertiary education and what we have or have lost in Barbados.

For example, I take the word “freeness” as a point of issue and Mr. St. Hill’s suggestion that benefit of the investment of tertiary education has been privatised. To inveigh against freeness is to disregard that Barbadian workers pay for all our social services via some of the highest tax rates in the world. Perhaps he will argue that we have borrowed to afford the tertiary education hence our exorbitant debt levels. That is easily checked. I suspect our borrowing for education projects has been towards Primary and in some cases secondary education. I am just going by news items over the years so someone can disprove me by bringing the education figures.

But to demand that we relinquish this “freeness” feels like an incomplete argument when we only had a recent example of hoteliers, from home and abroad, seeking and being granted real freenesses. Indeed they will be exempt from the taxes, unlike us, on the idea that they produce for development. Students of our one university do not, Mr. St. Hill argues.

So I find myself questioning, just to give an example, how our housing stock, on which we get so much credit in the UNDP social index, and which investors consider in decisions to make foreign direct investments, get so impressive. I find myself wondering how except through enterprise, initiative, productivity Barbados could have reached the enviable status it has reached among developing countries with no significant resources except its people and a steadily declining agricultural profile. Even in respect of the beaches, consider how hard NCC workers work who make them good for tourists, if you do not want to consider that we probably have a very highly educated tourism labour force.

So I find myself questioning, just to give an example, how our housing stock, on which we get so much credit in the UNDP social index, and which investors consider in decisions to make foreign direct investments, get so impressive. I find myself wondering how except through enterprise, initiative, productivity Barbados could have reached the enviable status it has reached among developing countries with no significant resources except its people and a steadily declining agricultural profile. Even in respect of the beaches, consider how hard NCC workers work who make them good for tourists, if you do not want to consider that we probably have a very highly educated tourism labour force.

Notice, I do not give all the credit to the graduates of our one university. However, university education does not exist without spin-offs. In fact, if Mr. St. Hill is able to separate the contributions that have been made from having a university here and the levels of comparative development that we have enjoyed in relation to other Caribbean countries nearby I would be happy to be educated. They have not given their citizens the “freeness” of socialised tertiary education like we have done. Theirs has been private as we are suddenly proposing. that ours now be.

The play House of Landship is a wonderful metaphor for Barbados at present. The excellence of the scripting and performance, despite one or two problems such as a feeling of repetition into the second act, provided a good means through which to think of this dialogue that we really cannot stop yet. House of Barbados needs far more people educated to the level where they can think for themselves. I do not think offering that students need to exchange Cave Hill with BCC or SJPP, or still calling this “freeness” when the score is really about privatisation now is indicative that we have educated enough at this level. That is what the new rates will imply. Of course banks and credit unions will also make interest profits as we continue to be an enterprising set of people, Barbadians.

Guidance,
Margaret D. Gill

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  1. The review of the BCC play can be seen on Theatre Eyes blog, Facebook

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