THESPIANS LEAD THE WAY

Jamaica 50 should celebrate exemplars of peaceful evolution from colonialism to real independence.  One such is Jamaican theatre whose “roots” can be traced back to 1941 when the National Pantomime, founded by theatre legends, Henry and Greta Fowler, began with the very British “Jack and The Beanstalk”.

The Pantomime’s Boxing Day opening soon became a Jamaican tradition.  The Pantomime itself became identified with two creative icons who, more than any other, ensured its eventual independence from British tradition.  They were Louise Bennett and Ranny Williams (“Miss Lou” and “Mass Ran”).

Miss Lou’s legendary status is assured but Mass Ran has been undeservedly forgotten.  He became “Brer Anancy” when Miss Lou and Noel Vaz created “Anancy and Busha Bluebeard” (1949) and performed in over 30 Pantomimes; writing two (Jamaica Way and Quashie Lady).   His partnership with Miss Lou was iconic.  He developed the “Lou and Ranny” radio show which opened JBC radio (1959) and was broadcast weekly live from the Carib and, later, from the Regal.

Ranny, a comedic genius whose storytelling was par excellence, was, and is, simply the best.  His story of a mischievous schoolboy taking a shortcut through Pastor’s field sets the bar.  The boy aggravated Pastor’s bull who proceeded to chase with evil intent.  The Boy cried out to Pastor “Help!” but all Pastor could do was to advise “Pray, boy, pray!”  So, as his lead over the rampaging bull disappeared quicker than Usain’s over Johan in the National Trials 200 metres final, the boy clasped his hands and prayed “Lord, for what I’m about to receive…..”

Many came after Lou and Ranny including Charles Hyatt (mentored by Ranny), Ed “Bim” Lewis and Aston “Bam” Wynter (“Bim and Bam”).  Bim’s seminal contribution to the emancipated “roots theatre” genre included this parody of Jamaica’s unofficial polygamy:

“Husband:   I would like you and my sweetheart to be friends                                                                                                            for that’s the only way your jealousy will end.                                                                                                                  And, although you are my wife,                                                                                                                                                                    my sweetheart you should not fight.                                                                                                                                                          So that’s the reason why you should be friends

Wife:           A sweetheart and a wife should never be friends.                                                                                                        My sister told me that from I was ten.                                                                                                                                                               And I don’t think it is right                                                                                                                                                                                         that for me, your lawful wife,                                                                                                                                                                         should ever keep your sweetheart for my friend.

Jamaicanization of the Pantomime spawned “Roots Theatre” that dared to go beyond the pantomime’s boundaries.  Ironically, a “Roots Theatre” pioneer and doyen, Trevor Rhone, was British trained.  Yet, his adroitness with the vernacular was as skilful as if he’d never left Bella’s Gate; his jokes lusty without being crude; and his themes unapologetically Jamaican.  Smile Orange (1973) made him famous; Old Story Time (1981)and Two Can Play (1982) cemented him as genius.

“Husband:            My sweetheart feels that you should be her friend                                                                                     because she has to help you now and then.                                                                                                                                            And she cannot understand                                                                                                                                                                                  how you want a whole a man                                                                                                                                                                             while others have to borrow from their friends.

Wife:                    Well I am different when it comes to men.                                                                                                                      I do not borrow neither do I lend.                                                                                                                                                                 For, although I am a fool,                                                                                                                                                                                         I don’t like to share my tool.                                                                                                                                                                               For that is what I call my bosom friend.

Smile Orange was quickly followed by Bim and Bam’s production, “Gun Court Affair” from which the song “Sweetheart” written by Bim; performed by Bim and Hyacinth Clover (“Bim and Clover”) became a monster hit.

The song was recorded (1975) when tertiary graduates were overwhelmingly male.  Now the vice is very much versa.  How should educated Christian women ensure fulfilling relationships?

Of course, it’s easy for men.  They aren’t doing any sharing.

“Wife (chuckling):          I would like you and my sweetheart to be friends….

Husband (interrupts):   Never dare to use those words to me again!

Wife:                    I was only making fun………

Husband:              Dat is one joke I don’t run.

Wife:                    Yet you want me and your sweetheart to be friends.”

I first saw this duet performed in Barbados, (“Jamaica Night” 1976) at UWI’s Cave Hill Campus.  Bim’s role was played by popular 1970s thespian, Harold Brady, a regular on “Eight O’Clock Jamaica Time” that brilliant satirical revue of all things Jamaican written and produced by Tony Gambrill.  Brady studied law instead of continuing acting thus depriving Jamaican theatre of a star.

For Jamaica 50, let’s remember and celebrate Lou and Ranny; Bim and Bam; Henry and Greta Fowler; Charles Hyatt, Trevor Rhone; Tony Gambrill; among many others.  They proved Independence means more than a flag and a song.

Peace and Love

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