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HomeWorldPlayboy of the West Indies review – feelgood musical that fails to...

Playboy of the West Indies review – feelgood musical that fails to click | Musicals


Something’s not quite right. The sound mix is off, but it’s not just that. On paper, the idea seems promising: take Mustapha Matura’s hit adaptation of JM Synge’s classic drama and turn it into a feelgood musical. Matura’s play time-travels Synge’s story from the early 1900s to the 1950s and shifts the location from the wild west coast of Ireland to a fishing village in Trinidad, home of calypso, that rhythmically insouciant-sounding music with its mocking, satirical, hard-hitting words. It should be a perfect fit for the tale of the insignificant farm lad who wins love and renown among strangers in a bar with the tall story of how he murdered his father.

The creative team is strong. Prime mover behind the project is director Nicolas Kent. It was Kent who commissioned Matura’s adaptation in 1984 and he and the playwright began working on this musical version in 2015 (Matura remained involved until his sudden death in 2019.). Also involved in the project from early days are Kent’s co-directors, Clement Ishmael and Dominique Le Gendre (the two are also its composers); all four are credited as lyricists.

So, all the ingredients are good… and yet… The result is an almost-musical and not-quite play. Are there just too many cooks or was the idea itself only ever a mirage? The strength of both plays lies in the music of their language: the contrast between the poetry of the characters’ dialects and the poverty of their circumstances highlights the gulf between hopeful dreams and harsh realities. Here, the calpyso-jazz numbers, beautifully played as they are, come across as too much Coca-Cola, not enough rum.

As the “playboy”, Durone Stokes is likable and the romance between him and Gleanne Purcell-Brown’s yearning barmaid, Peggy, is touching, but the evening belongs to Angela Wynter as local busybody/wise woman Mama Benin and to Guy Burgess as risen-from-the-dead father.



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