Hughes sees hope in Walcott’s Pantomime

Brenda Hughes

Theatre director Brenda Hughes is back in Trinidad after 16 years in Boston. It was a long time away from T&T and her natural calling—the performing arts. Her children were the reason she left—a strong desire to have them educated at Boston University led her to apply for a job there, managing the largest faculty on campus, as Joshua Surtees reports in this article for The Guardian.

Directing Derek Walcott’s play Pantomime, which opens tonight at the Little Carib Theatre, Port-of-Spain, she has jumped back into the Caribbean dramatic arts like a diver piercing the water.

So, is she one of those Trinis who has many strings to her bow? She immediately agrees.

“I saw the writing on the wall a long time ago that the 21st century was going to be about that, people with multiple skills. It’s good to specialise, but you can easily become anachronistic, if they change the way of doing things. You never know where you’re going to fall.”

Back in T&T, and retired from her administrative management career she is back to her first love: theatre. In 1994 she completed a masters in theatre studies at Florida State and headed back to the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, where she first met Walcott, but found the old company “less than welcoming.”

So how did this production of Pantomime materialise? “This is the first (play I’ve directed) ever,” she says, “I thought it would be a good place to start, with two actors, a play that I know well, a play that will be interesting and bring people, so it’s like a re-introduction.

“Derek and I, even though he had been estranged from the Workshop, we had always maintained contact and I produced Dream on Monkey Mountain, The Joker of Seville, A Branch of the Blue Nile. And I had a burning desire to direct this play. So I called him earlier this year and he was quite amenable. He asked me quite a few questions, I guess I satisfied them. He asked me about the cast, told me the royalties I had to pay and we went merrily along.

“You try very hard to get sponsorship but of course you get much less than you need. But that’s ok, it’s all par for the course, people are well-intentioned.”

The original 1978 script has been re-written by Walcott. In Hughes’s version “manservant” Jackon Phillip is played by Michael Cherrie and hotelier Harry Trewe by Maurice Brash, returning to the role he created.

The run is scheduled for three days but everything is in place for an extended run, if ticket sales materialise. Rehearsals began in July, for two reasons.

 

“It’s a gruelling play, these two men are onstage continually for two hours. Secondly we wanted to really massage Walcott’s words and ideas. We didn’t want to ‘just do it’, we wanted to get into the parts, the meaning, the metaphors, his philosophy. A lot of things come out about colonialism, the master-servant relationship. The black-white relationship.

“But it’s not a vehement anger between the two (characters), it’s like an understanding.”

We are talking at the Little Carib. Overhead the rain pounds on the galvanised roof. There is a constant stream of interruptions. Telephone calls, people arriving to collect tickets. Deliveries, props, logistics. When the box office is closed, Hughes is the box office and tickets are selling fast.

“It’s frightening,” says Hughes.

Halfway through our interview a woman comes into the theatre to get tickets and tells Hughes she saw the play back in the 70s.

So will she see the same kind of play on Friday when it opens?

“More or less. The themes are there still. The language is probably more elaborate, more seductive and evocative. Walcott has a way with words, you know? His puns, his ideas. Taking a long time to rehearse this play, you get the fullness of it, you can really wallow in it.”

And the play itself?

“The idea is these two guys are stuck, in more ways than one. They’re in a gazebo on the edge of a cliff. They’re coming from a history of colonialism and they’re both changing. Harry Trewe, the white guy, doesn’t want to be in that position, but history has put him in the position that because he’s white he has to be the master. He doesn’t want to give orders, he wants to be like a regular Joe.”

But that was 1978, surely things have changed? Perhaps not. In her director’s notes, Hughes says colonialism is still rife.

“You ever see how people treat their maids in Trinidad? How somebody with a little bit of power behaves? It’s as if both parties agree that’s how it should be.”

But it’s not necessarily a black people and white people thing these days?

“No, we have assumed their position.”

Black people?

“Yes. You ever see how the Government behaves? They run through the traffic with sirens on… It means we’re not thinking. All we’ve done is replace the actors. As soon as you get in power you behave a certain way. I guess I’ve been in the States too long, they never had colonialism there.

“But there’s hope. The thing about this play I find, having done it and lived with it and lived in it for so long; it is one of hope, you know. At the risk of sounding maudlin, one of the outcomes of the play is it will make you feel there is indeed hope for better relationships all around.”

Brenda Hughes: A factfile

• Born in Carapichaima, Trinidad

• Grew up in Belmont in a house constantly visited by creative talents like George Bailey, Geoffrey Holder, Sparrow, Kelvin Rotadier.

• Her aunt Audrey Jeffers laid the cornerstone for the Little Carib Theatre, along with Paul Robeson)

• Attended Woodbrook Government Secondary as part of the first ever class.

• Taught drama and art by Freida Artmann with whom she performed her first school play.

• Joined Trinidad Theatre Workshop as a teenager in 1967.

• Acts in first play, Belle Fanto by Eric Roach.

• Film, TV and radio roles follow, including assistant director of Hummingbird Tree, a BBC movie shot in T&T.

• Moves from acting to producing.

• Educated at City University, New York and Florida State University.

For the original report go to http://guardian.co.tt/entertainment/2013-10-10/hughes-sees-hope-pantomime

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