Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Value in disparate voices

Published:Thursday | December 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord

Take your pick. Experience the sacred with a concert by The Chapel Choir of Campion College (that's the formal name) on Sunday, January 3, 2016, at Saxthorpe Methodist Church, or the profane with David Tulloch's latest comedy, Bangarang, now playing at the Green Gables Theatre.

Or you could experience - and enjoy - both, as I did. Each show has virtues.

This year, Campion's concert was first put on at Sts Peter and Paul Church on Wednesday, December 16. The school's principal, Grace Baston, welcomed the small audience to the concert's second annual staging, inviting us to "pause to remember what's right with our world." She added: "Let's suspend our concerns ... and enjoy."

The first half began and ended with the same composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His short, simple Ave Verum Corpus opened the programme, which lasted just over an hour (with intermission).

Though more complex the second Mozart item, Santa Maria, Mater Dei, is still only seven minutes long and did not appear to unduly tax the 20-odd strong choir of sopranos, trebles, altos, tenors and basses. Their competence no doubt came from the disciplined rehearsals that the choir's founder and conductor, Randall Campbell, is noted for. I noted, too, that they carefully followed Campbell's precise guidance.

Three other religious pieces, two by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Charles Parry's popular hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, rounded out the first half.

Sacred songs continued to dominate the programme's second half.

However, there were also secular items like the bouncy Carol of the Bells, Jingle Bells and the soothing German lullaby, Still, Still, Still, which served as a companion to the other German song, Stille Nacht (Silent Night). Both conveyed the same mood.

When Campbell is not conducting choirs, he teaches Spanish and French. His knowledge of languages probably accounts for the choir's good pronunciation in not only the Latin and German songs, but the English ones as well.

Again, Carole Reid was the school's guest singer. Her trained and textured voice gave a layer of excellence to the choir's fine presentations and together they treated the audience to one of the highlights of the evening, Adolphe Adam's sublime carol O Holy Night.

Reid and choir were again together for J.F. Wade's O Come, All Ye Faithful, and with it they closed the programme on the proverbial 'high note'. The standing ovation they got was merited.

Mixed up Bangarang

Though David Tulloch is from St James, he is familiar enough with Kingston to know that Duke and Church streets don't intersect and that Princess Street is more than just a few steps away from either. But the street signs in Bangarang would lead one to believe that that's the geography of downtown Kingston.

The mix-up of locations is symptomatic of the mixed up nature of the play's storyline, though initially it does not seem to be so. The opening 20 minutes or so comprise couple of 'tracing matches' and I felt I was watching just another simple-minded 'roots' play.

The first cussing takes place between Pearl Harbour (Monique Ellis), a street vendor of women's underwear by day, a prostitute by night, and Miss Chin (Terri Salmon), outside whose dry goods store Pearl sells. The second exchange of words is between Pearl and Shebada (Keith Ramsay), a vendor of men's outer garments.

Other characters involved are Officer Shellaz (Patrick Smith), Preacher (Tulloch), another handcart man and Winston Justice (Chris McFarlane), a politician who wears an orange and green shirt, suggesting he is aligned with both major political parties. The actors engage the audience in conversation so many times (as often happens in roots productions) that the patrons might be seen as characters.

As more and more characters are introduced, we come to see that Bangarang has some depth. Underneath the canopy of cussing lies complicated love stories, and underneath that is a tale of political corruption.

The love stories centre on Pearl. She has an intimate relationship with Shellaz, who feels love for her but it is not mutual. She has an intimate relationship with Winston and, eventually, we hear how longstanding it has been. And she appears to fall in love - though perhaps, it's just 'infatuation' - with Preacher, a man who prefers long words to short ones.

Halfway through the play, in an unexpected move, the author invites us to consider the role and functions of politics in Jamaica. There's a patina of honesty to the views expressed and, for a while, it's no longer a roots play but a discussion drama.

In one of the play's best scenes, two amusing, realistic campaign speeches are given by Winston and Preacher. (By the way, Tulloch is the son of a former government minister and that background could account for the verisimilitude of the speeches.)

In one of the play's worst scenes because it shows a loss of story integrity - all the characters become involved in the politics, one in a good way, most in a bad way. To box the play up neatly, the author switches from writing a character-driven story to a plot-propelled one. Three characters are squeezed into roles that their original personalities did not prepare us for.

There is a maxim in storytelling that the climax should be surprising but inevitable. The surprise comes because we didn't see the climax coming; the inevitability comes from our realisation that if we had been watching carefully, we would have seen clues presaging it.

Tulloch wanted to surprise but merely ended up fooling us, for he had planted no clues.