3 April 2015

Play Mas at the Orange Tree was neat enough but lacked purpose

My plan to see everything at the Orange Tree Theatre took me to see Play Mas which I would probably not have gone to see if it had been on anywhere else. I have nothing against "wickedly funny, exuberant and poignant" plays but being set in Trinidad meant that I had no connection with the history or culture.

I booked to see it on a Friday evening which is, these days, my usual Orange Tree evening as it is easy to fit in wherever I am working and leaves the weekend free for other things. This Friday was Good Friday so work was not an issue but a routine is a routine.

I am still not used to the new regime with pre-allocated seating and it took some luck to book early enough to claim a front-row seat, A7 for £20.

The theatre I wanted to see had been backing up and this was the fourth play that I saw in three days. One of those had been exceptional (WINK) and another had been very good (Frozen) so Play Mas had some difficult acts to follow.

It started well. The scene was a small tailor's shop where the tailor and his trainee/assistant were doing more talking than working. The tailor's mother was in the next room and kept calling the assistant through to do work for her and shouting to her son to get on with his work. These were the main characters in the play and they were established quickly and believably.

While I would not have called the dialogue between mother and son wickedly funny it was certainly funny and it generated a lot of genuine laughter from the audience.

There was a serious side to their banter too and from their discussion we learned something of the colonial society that they were living in.

This was one of those plays that needed an interval to signal a change of time and of mood. After the break we were in post-colonial Trinidad and, through his connections, the tailor's assistant had risen through the ranks to become chief of police with a rebel problem on his hands.

Some of the points made here were rather simplistic, such as the chief of police's wife insisting on joining him on a trip to the USA so she could go shopping. We also met two foreign investors, messrs Tate and Lyle, which was making a ridiculously simple point ridiculously simply.

There was a story here too and that concerned the rebel forces and that problem was solved at the end of the play at Trinidad's annual festival, the Mas (derived from masquerade).

There were several parts to the play and I felt that some worked better than others. I loved the characters and the way that they were presented. The story and the political commentary behind it I found stale and it told me nothing that I did not already know about colonialism and the imperialism that has often replaced it (Bhurundi is in the news as I write). I could not see what the play was trying to say to educated people in Richmond in 2015.

Play Mas was something of a disappointment, especially when compared to most things that I have seen there and I hope that it remains the exception that proves the rule.

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