Monday, 16 March 2015

Theatre Review: Play Mas (Orange Tree)


Melanie La Barrie and Johann Myers in Play Mas (Photo: Robert Day)

Debuted at the Royal Court in 1974, when it won its writer the Evening Standard’s Most Promising Playwright Award, Mustapha Matura’s Play Mas now receives an absolutely top-notch revival by Paulette Randall at the Orange Tree as the latest gem in Paul Miller’s hugely successful first season.

Matura’s play treats the subject of Trinidad’s independence in two Acts. In the first, the action unfolds in the late 50s, in a Port of Spain tailor shop owned by one Miss Gookool. Here Samuel is an apprentice working with Miss G’s garrulous son Ramjohn, who has his own very particular philosophy of suit-making. Carnival is coming – to the delight of Samuel and the disdain of Ramjohn – and so are stirrings of political unrest, led by the PNM's charismatic Eric Williams. In the second Act, taking place a few years later, Samuel has become Commissioner of Police and calls Ramjohn in for a favour. In between, independence has indeed come to Trinidad, bringing with it new political challenges, as student “terrorists” object to the State’s decisions and its pro-American policies.

Robust, witty and generous in its language, and highly astute in its exploration of identity politics and carnival (as  genuine transgression or colonialist construct), Matura’s play is ripe for rediscovery. And Randall’s vibrant production leaps off the stage, boosted by a terrific design by Libby Watson (including some  truly fabulous costumes), well-judged music selections, and superb work from the cast.

Determined to keep politics out of her shop, even as she snaps at her staff and son and fawns over an Englishman (Rob Heanley), the brilliant Melanie La Barrie manages to make the no-nonsense matriarch Miss Gookool more deeply sympathetic than simply shrewish. Victor Romero Evans is vivid as a philandering neighbour  and brilliantly pulls off one of the play’s most bravura interludes.  Lori Barker contributes a priceless comic cameo as Samuel’s demanding wife.

And as the colleagues whose relationship is at the centre of the piece, Johann Myers as Ramjohn and Seun Shote as Samuel establish a beautiful rapport, whether shooting the breeze over films (the play contains some truly delectable movie-based chat) or subtly conveying the big shift in power in the characters' dynamic. Only the production’s final moments are perhaps a little too subdued, lacking the needed punch. But this remains a thrilling and absorbing evening that’s not to be missed.


Play Mas is booking until 11th April. Further information at the Orange Tree website.
 


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