It was a night to remember, the opening performance of Derek Walcott’s epic dramatized poem Omeros—a strong two-hander cast of Joseph Marcell and Joan Iyiola directed by Bill Buckhurst. The talented trio provided the onstage magic.
JD Douglas had been asked by the Globe to stage a Saint Lucia night. Well, more a Saint Lucia presence, for all the right reasons. As JD reflected: “We need to have a Saint Lucian presence in as many British institutions and decision-making fora as possible, lest we become mere passive consumers. It’s no good saying how proud we are of our living Nobel laureate if as fellow Saint Lucians we do not know his work.”
Saint Lucians and friends of Saint Lucians were able to purchase their tickets at an earlier agreed discount rate brokered by Douglas and were allowed to sit in a pre-designated ringed area of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse..
The play, although inspired by Homer’s gigantic saga, is not a translation or a modern version; more a recast in a temporary West Indian setting. The characters of Achille, Hector and Helen are the embodiment of the Saint Lucia psyche and temperament: Philocette, with his festering wound, is a metaphor of so much that is wrong with island home. Helen is the maid of retired British Army Office Major Denis Plunkett and his wife Maud. Set in Gros Islet, historical facts and events are blended into a studied poetic landscape.
The various story lines are narrated and dramatised by the two actors Marcell and Iyiola with passion and dexterity. Their characters have dreams, desires—soul. There is a reality and a vulnerability. They are you, they are me, they are the sum experience of many things. As one Saint Lucian currently serving in her Majesty’s Armed Forces was overheard to say: “When an angry Marcell cut the roots with his cutlass and spoke the words, ‘Now you know what it’s like to be without roots,’ that really resonated with me. I felt that sentiment over and over.” Yes, indeed, pure theatre to move the individual, as it should to be.
Saint Lucians in the audience were on top of the play in more ways than one. They were proud to be associated with something as Saint Lucian as the work of Derek Walcott and would go on to demonstrate their approval. For many this was the first time they had seen the internationally recognized Joseph Marcell on stage. He is universally known the world over as Geoffrey, the butler in TV’s The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Thespis is credited with being the first to introduce dialogue to the stage in 6th century BC. He was also an actor of note. His many disciples, including the Stanislavsky school of acting, proclaim that a play is not actors; a play is not a script; it is not a director moving actors on stage—but the synergy of what is happening on stage and the reverberation and reactions of the audience. Well, by this token this certainly was a magical event and gigantic play.
Some of the dialogue incorporates Creole; as soon as the actors delivered their words the Saint Lucians in the audience responded with laughter and guffaws. What was obvious was that some things simply don’t translate. English translations of what was said in Creole failed to hit the spot. For example, when Marcell spat out the expletive “salop” at his co-actor the knowing section of the audience went hysterical! Only Saint Lucians know the many shades of “salop!”
Also forgiven was Joan Iyiola’s less than convincing Creole. Many Saint Lucians noted the mispronunciations: “What did she say?” Nevertheless it needs be noted that Iyiola is nothing short of a wonderful actor. But I’m a nitpicker; my criticisms are admittedly minor.
According to Douglas: “Part of the idea of the Saint Lucia night is to open the work of writers including the Kendal Hippolytes, the Robert Lees, the Gandolphs St. Clairs and our musical icons Boo Hinkson and Luther Francois to the Globe audiences. Yes, the Globe does stage musical events as well. This is a window and and opportunity not to be missed. The idea of the production actually started in a Saint Lucian bar in Dennery, not in someone’s office in London. Then the Globe representative took out his battered copy of Omeros, pushed it toward me over his first glass of Spiced rum. That was back in August 2013 when the Globe toured Saint Lucia with King Lear.”
Noted in the audience on the night was the celebrated writer Ben Okri. After the play he was more than willing to speak of the impact of the performance. To his tag of being the work of “the finest writer in the English language” Omeros provides the evidence of the finest word smith on the planet. Walcott’s clever interplay of words and phrases had many a clever Dick scratching his head. A perfect example: the interplay of the words canoe and cannot (kanot) while many Looshans nodded in the writer’s cleverness, at the end others were asking the Saint Lucians to explain their laughter. Yes, it was truly a Saint Lucian night, for all the right reasons.
Saint Lucians such as the Tate family came from Cambridgeshire; Hilary Modeste, former director of Tourism travelled from Essex; the Gobats, socialite Penny Barnard, the Saint Lucian Women’s Association, all showed up on the occasion. Indeed, Saint Lucians from all walks of life were on hand to be counted.
Finally words from JD Douglas, who organised the evening: “The dramatization in many ways is a mirror for all Saint Lucians. Walcott’s pronouncement on the tourist product as an example, and his warnings seem to have gone unheeded when you think of the Black Bay fiasco. The biggest satisfaction, for me, was seeing that what unites us as a people is much stronger and greater than what sets us apart. In this case the work of Derek Walcott is certainly one of the strongest unifiers—if not the greatest—for all Saint Lucians.”