‘Moon Child’ played out
The Lakeside Theatre at the University of Essex, currently hosting Derek Walcott as Professor of Poetry, on Saturday April 30, 2011 presented what can be best described as Walcott’s revisit of his classic play Ti-Jean and His Brothers using a variety of tones and hues to depict the inspiration for the story we have come to know and love.
Walcott directed the staged reading that features excerpts from the original and was to have taken on the role of the Conteur which replaces the storytelling beginning formerly shared by the animals of the forest-frog, cricket, firefly and bird. Instead, an English actor handled the lines from his downstage position fairly well given the fact that Walcott writes with a Creole cadence.
This opening scene is the only major rewrite in this new version and seems to perform Walcott’s intention to recapture the memory of his childhood village and the storyteller who entrances audiences by the light of the moon. As the Conteur speaks of the history that gives rise to Ti-Jean’s tale, a large screen set upstage flashes the lush watercolours that chronicle the narrative. This development works well to show the other artistic self of the Nobel Laureate, who is providing via pictorial means the background to this modern version of the original play. The paintings with their bright Caribbean landscapes and figures from the Boxing Day Carnival and the country rum shop dances place this piece firmly in the Creole traditions of St Lucia and one can sense the nostalgia of the poet/playwright unfolding.
In addition, Walcott renders some of the plight of the mother and her sons in music via collaboration with compatriot Ronald ‘Boo’ Hinkson, renowned guitarist and composer. We learn of the demise of Gros-Jean and Mi-Jean and the triumph of Ti-Jean from the Conteur and are brought face to face with tragedy and victory via some of the songs and chants of the chorus played by two Black British actors and enhanced by the vigorous rhythms of the lone drummer. He is no Andrew Beddoe but his syncopation captures the origins of Moon Child. The singers provide a soothing counterpoint and show the possibilities if the play is truly developed into a musical. Added to their voices is that of Lesley-Ann Halls as the Mother, who begins the performance with a natural grace and ease.
Wendell Manwarren as the Planter/Devil gives a very creditable performance in this short drama, and Walcott can feel proud with his choice of Manwarren, an accomplished actor and rapso artist from 3Canal. He reminds one of Albert LaVeau, one of the founding members of Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre Workshop. With the seriousness of an old hand and the swagger of a young LaVeau, Walcott may have found in him his modern muse.
The other figure from the original play-the Bolom-is taken on by Dean Atta in this production. He shows his agility and seems comfortable with the role. The choice of costume- black and red swim trunks- adds a new dimension to the playing and allows us to see the Bolom’s transformation at the end when he is granted life.
Overall the evening was one well spent and the producers-Maria Fumagalli and Penny Woollard, can feel happy at the positive response of the appreciative crowd. Stage manager Genine Sumner may have had her challenges, but the play came off without any hitches. We look forward to the Caribbean showing, which by then should have developed the music, fixed the flaws in the dubbing, expanded the slideshow more meaningfully and removed the tentativeness of the Conteur’s lines that was all too evident. All that will be needed then is an Earl Warner to make the language sing!
Icil Phillips is a retired secondary school teacher of Literature and Drama, a Popular Theatre practitioner, actor and dramaturge, a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics and a reviewer of local plays.