For the Reckord | 'Revolution' disturbs, 'Moses' entertains
Rayon McLean, founder and artistic director of the six-year-old Quilt Performing Arts Company, and Fr Richard Ho Lung, founder of the 45-year-old Fr Ho Lung & Friends, were misleadingly succinct when they described their companies to audiences on Sunday.
Speaking at the National Gallery in the early afternoon, McLean said his company “tackles social issues”.
Speaking at the National Arena three hours later, Ho Lung said that his productions were mounted to “evangelise God through the scriptures”.
Of course, tackling social issues and spreading the message of the New Testament gospels that you should love your neighbour, et cetera, are closely intertwined. But those who have observed the two groups over the years would know that both do much more than their founders stated.
And those who attended their shows on Sunday would have seen how much more.
Quilt’s hour-long show, Revolution (twinned with another as-yet-unnamed work and comprising a number of elaborately staged poems and songs), featured about a dozen actors, drummers, singers and dancers. Fr Ho Lung & Friends’ musical, Moses, was two and a half hours long and had perhaps 100 actors, dancers and musicians (including a large band), as well as numerous lighting and sound technicians and other backstage crew.
It is generally agreed that the two broad aims of theatre are to disturb (emotionally) or entertain. Clever writers manage to do both and the writers of Revolution and Moses showed they were clever. But what a difference in emphasis!
Revolution mainly disturbs; Moses mainly entertains.
Quilt’s first item began with wind chimes sounding offstage while the cast, dressed in brown leotards and tights, walked one by one from the National Gallery’s second floor to the ground floor’s performance space. There the actors laid themselves on the floor, partly on each other, in a slowly building heap which eventually grew to look like a pile of dead bodies.
That first unsettling image took a long five minutes to be created; happily, the remainder of the show moved more quickly. Still, that meant more rapid assaults on one’s emotions.
In the show as a whole – including the segment about the ‘zombification’ of society (that is, people’s tendency to give up self-directed thinking and jump on to any passing bandwagon) – powerful images were summoned up by several chanted, spoken or sung statements and questions.
Some of them were “We have long forgotten how to breathe”, “Does your wine taste like blood, lately?”, “Politicians love zombies, because zombies don’t think” and “There is a serious colour problem (in Jamaica) – an orange and green problem... If I have to choose a colour, I’d rather be colour-blind.”
One passion-filled piece was an expanded version of the poem Have You Seen Mario?, which the group staged at the same venue a year ago. Starting casually and singly, but with more and more performers getting involved and with increasing urgency, the actors call out the names of young men who, we gradually realise, were murdered. Mario Deane was one.
“Mi a look fi mi bredda!” the actors scream desperately, ending the poem with the request “let’s have a moment of silence / Fi de nex yute that will die.”
Though Quilt’s show was undoubtedly entertaining, I’m not sure one could say it gave pleasure. Moses certainly did and will continue to give pleasure until it closes on Sunday.
Its story is basically the one biblical tale told in Exodus. But Ho Lung takes a lot of poetic licence, inventing situations and characters, putting anachronistic dialogue into their mouths. Some not only talk about Jamaican food – like ackee and saltfish – but they do so in Patois.
Developed over 21 short scenes, the story’s scope is epic. It involves, among other things, enslavement of a people, a river of blood, a baby-killing plague, swarms of locusts, flight from an army and, of course, the parting of the Red Sea. The main directors – set designer P.J. Stewart, the unnamed costume designer, movement director Paula Shaw, lighting designer Robin Baston and overall director Greg Thames – help the writer, Ho Lung, to give the show the epic feel.
A huge set, showing hills and the desert as well as a throne room, fills the huge stage. When that stage is full of people, their costumes create rainbows of colour.
Writing for a family audience, including children, Ho Lung adds easily understood inter-personal relationships – between mother and son, master and slave, husband and wife, father and daughter, among others.
The most beautiful component of the show is the music, especially the songs ( which seem to come every five minutes). Kudos to the Ho Lung, the chief lyricist, and musical director and composer-lyricist Wynton Williams (who also plays Moses, along with Stephen R. Johnson).