Sunday, 19 April 2015

'Play Mas' at The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

A few weeks ago we went to see the revival of a play from the 1970s by Mustapha Matura at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, 'Play Mas' about events before and after the liberation of Trinidad from Empire in the 1960s. Well, freedom from the British Empire to be swallowed by the American empire. Apparently this was it's first revival since the '70s which seems odd but its politics of big business and money are still as current today as they ever were.

It starts out in an Indian tailors' workroom with the tailor and the family servant bantering about making a suit and films, while the tailor's off-stage mother needs to borrow the servant lad for odd tasks. It takes a while to get going and gradually the political overtones start emerging of class and race and the ridiculousness of the one white character appearing all sweaty and exhausted from just walking from his car to the tailor's workroom. And then there's the political rally that the servant lad wants to go to but is forbidden by his employer and subsequently fired. That was a long scene that was pleasant enough but didn't seem to go anywhere until you make the connections in the penultimate scene.

Next we have the 'Mas' or 'masquerade' of the title, with various people visiting the tailors' workroom in costume and character as part of the Trinidad carnival. Firstly the servant lad returns in military fatigues and carrying a rifle threatening to kill the tailor and his mother, totally convincing until he broke out laughing, swigs some rum and leaves in high spirits. But that's too much for the tailors' mother and she dies off-stage of a heart attack. That makes the next few has characters even more surreal as it's never entirely clear who's playing who - the doctor, the priest, the undertakers. This was a throughly engaging and enjoyable part of the play and Victor Romero Evans was great as the witchy-doctor character, servant of the underworld wanting a few pennies.

The second half kicks off a few years later with the former servant now serving as the chief of police under the new regime with his social climbing wife, rich friends and new entrepreneurs trying to influence what happens and his wanting to ensure that America will invest in the newly safe and trouble-free nation that's being created. He tries to enlist the tailor to be a spy while telling him about being wined and dined in New York and going to see international films (films - or flims - keep cropping up). Mas is banned that year to ensure no civil disturbances but he's eventually persuaded to reinstate it and give an amnesty to the anti-American groups so that can join in. At his Mas party in his office over-looking the city square all his rich friends come dressed to the nines as the army takes on the rebel groups celebrating and his plan comes together as the lights go down.

It was such an odd ending that it wasn't immediately clear that is was the end and then the clapping started. Seun Shote was excellent as the servant/police chief moving quite easily from the shambling servant lad in cut-off trousers to the be-suited police chief. I also liked Victor Romero-Evans as the indebted spiv, the witchy-doctor and the thrusting entrepreneur in the final scenes. It was well produced on the tiny stage, made even smaller by the audience members in the front rows sitting with their legs stuck out.

So that's two trips to the Orange Tree in the first months of 2015. That suggests there may well be more during the year if the quality of works stays at this high standard.

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