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The Theatreguide.London Review

Play Mas
Orange Tree Theatre   Spring 2015

'Play Mas' is Trinidad slang for masquerade, the elaborate dressing-up that is part of the Caribbean island's pre-Lenten carnival. Carnival provides the spine for Mustapha Matura's 1974 play, the one common thread connecting scenes with personal or political focus, and frequent and rapid shifts in tone and style. 

The play begins as a domestic 1950s sitcom with a small-scale Trinidad tailor and his assistant chatting amicably on topics ranging from film actors to the ideal perfect suit while coping with the tailor's gorgon mother. 

The abrupt death of one character in the midst of Carnival generates a nightmarish phantasmagoria involving a devil, a witch doctor and ghostly undertakers, at least some of whom turn out to be just friends playing mas. 

The action then jumps over several years during which Trinidad gained independence from Britain and the new government faced rebellion by first cancelling Carnival and then reinstating it with a darker purpose. Once again the tone and theatrical mode change every twenty minutes or so, from political satire to farce to ominous drama. 

It would take a stronger production than Paulette Randall's at Richmond's Orange Tree to hold this sprawling play together, and although individual sequences, particularly the comic ones, are effective and entertaining, the evening doesn't work as a whole. 

Whatever internal rhythm and forward movement there is to the script hasn't been found, so that the jumps in tone and topic are too abrupt, while even within scenes the actors sometimes seem unsure why their characters are saying and doing what they do. 

A small but recurring pattern of flubbed lines and mistimings suggests that another week of rehearsals might also have helped director and actors find a consistency or at least smoother transition of tones and rhythms, and a stronger sense of individual characterisations. 

The best way to experience this production might be to just enjoy the broadly comic scenes for their own sake and sit patiently through the rest, though you might have occasion to pause and consider that many of the jokes, largely based on the characters' pretensions to expertise or erudition beyond them, and caricatures, like the tailor cowering before his mother or a husband before the demands of his nouveau riche wife, might well be labelled racist had the playwright been white. 

Most in the large cast are limited to one or two brief appearances that give them little opportunity to register. Johann Myers as the tailor, Seun Shote as the assistant later elevated to high political position and Lori Barker as the demanding wife come closest to fully developed and entertaining comic characters.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Play Mas - Orange Tree Theatre 2015


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