THE National Drama Company of Guyana (NDC) in keeping with its mandate to showcase theatrical productions that will benefit all Guyanese, including the students of our country who will be writing their CSEC Literature exams pretty soon, will be staging productions of Derek Walcott’s “Ti Jean and His Brothers” at the National Cultural Centre on April 3, 4, 6 and 8 (matinee performances) and on April 6 (evening performance).
The play written by the St. Lucian Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, is particularly well-known in the Caribbean where it is studied at both the high school and university levels. “Ti Jean and His Brothers” tells the tale of three brothers who set out into the world and encounter the devil, who challenge them to complete various tasks without displaying their emotions. The first brother relies only on strength and the second brother relies only on book-knowledge, while the third brother, Ti Jean, uses his kindness and common sense to best the devil.
The story is lurid one, filled with forests and talking animals( a frog, a cricket, a bird, and a firefly), fable-like, with a central moral in its heart. The play deals with themes that everyone in the Caribbean can appreciate, from the history of colonisation to religion and folklore. Figures like the old man of the forest, Papa Bois, and the spirit of the unborn child, Bolom, also make appearances which reinforce some of these thematic elements.
“Ti Jean and His Brothers” has been on the CSEC syllabus for the past few years and, in fact, in its first year on the syllabus, the NDC staged a production in 2016 which serves as the basis on which this new production of the same play is built. The 2019 show brings back a lot of the elements which were successful the last time around. These include the use of live music (by musicians, Kimberly Samuels, Ricardo Primo, and Lisa Douglas) in the production, through the use of violin, recorder, guitar and, of course, drumming. Live music in Caribbean theatre has its roots in the ritual/folk traditions upon which our theatrical forms are built.
The use of extravagant costumes has always been a part of both Caribbean theatre and the NDC’s output and in this particular production, the costumes continue to be top-notch, of a quality that is not common on the Guyanese stage. The pieces are designed by Esther Hamer and include everything from the various guises of the devil (old man, planter, etc.) to the various animals involved in the production, including wings for the bird and long legs for the cricket, to the veiny, dark monstrosity that is the Bolom. The whole thing promises to be an enigmatic and magical affair, swamped in the colour and vibrancy of the Caribbean.
The play is led by an all-star cast of actors who represent the crème-de-la-crème of Guyanese theatre. Mark Luke-Edwards plays the devil who tries to trick Ti Jean into giving up his life. Nicholas Singh plays the role of Papa Bois, the sinister old man of the forest who serves as a form of the devil. The Bolom is played by a leaping, twirling Esther Hamer, and the demons are relayed by Kimberly Fernandes, Akbar Singh, and Ayanna Waddell. Nirmala Narine is the Bird, O’Neilka Bacchus is the Cricket, Tikoma Austin is the Frog, and Sonia Yarde is the Firefly.
The three brothers are played by Ackeem Joseph (Gros Jean), Keon Heywood (Mi Jean), and Kemo Cort (Ti Jean), respectively. The mother of the three is essayed by Nicola Moonsammy. The production is directed by Subraj Singh and Al Creighton and is staged managed by Ayanna Waddell.