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For the Reckord | Justice and spirits - Fact-based play, exhibition infused with music

Published:Friday | December 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Hugh Douse (in red shirt) leads Nexus in a song during a guided tour of Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives at the National Gallery last weekend.
National Gallery curator Verlee Poupeyee introduces the Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives exhibition.
The couple behind the Spiritual Yards exhibition at the National Gallery Myrene Cox (left) and Wayne Cox (right), at the gallery.
Bob Kerr plays a defiant Governor Eyre in The Trial of Governor Eyre, being staged at the Faculty of Law, UWI, Mona.

Courtroom dramas are quite commonplace. Guided tours of art galleries are conducted every day. However, over the weekend, Corporate Area audiences were treated to a courtroom drama and an art gallery tour which were quite extraordinary.

The former, The Trial of Governor Eyre, is a fact-based play about a trial that was never actually held though it should have been. It depicts 19th Century Governor of Jamaica Edward John Eyre on trial for conspiracy to murder Mary Ward, Letitia Geohagen, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, the last two eventually becoming National Heroes.

They were four of the 400-plus Jamaicans whose deaths Eyre was responsible for directly or indirectly after what is generally called the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865. ('Uprising' is more politically correct.)

Among the unusual aspects of the play are the authorship and the speed at which it was written. Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels, who was new to playwriting, told me he wrote the first draft in "three-and-a-half hours and four glasses of water", acting out all eight or nine characters in his conference room while a court reporter recorded his words.

The draft was later dramaturged by Amba Chevannes and Fabian Thomas, then further revised by the author, University of the West Indies (UWI) historians Verene Shepherd (the executive producer) and Clinton Hutton, and the production's director, Michael Holgate.

The play was first produced last year October at the new Morant Bay Courthouse, an appropriate venue as the old one was the epicentre of the Uprising. Currently the production is running in another appropriate space, a lecture theatre in the UWI's Faculty of Law which was designed to look like a courtroom and is used for mock trials. It plays on Saturday from 8:00 p.m. and Sunday from 6:00 p.m. this weekend.

Changes made to last year's powerful cast have not diminished The Trial of Governor Eyre's strength. Newcomers whom I saw on Saturday night included Brian Johnson, who plays the prosecutor; Makeda Solomon, the judge; Tyane Robinson, a farmer named John Ward; and Tom Trainer, an expert witness from England.

Major characters like the defence lawyer Mr Carlyle, Mrs Cecelia Bogle (Bogle's mother); (Lucy Gordon (Gordon's widow) and Paula Goehagen (Letitia's sister) are again convincingly played by Abledon Foote, Shawna-Kae Burns, Hilary Nicholson and Suzanne Beadle respectively.

Another addition to the current production are several of Holgate's specially written dub poems, which comment on the action and add a musical dimension to it. Omaro Mazlyn, as the registrar, accompanies the poems on a drum.

The gut-wrenching play follows the well-known historical events, and I won't elaborate on them here. But we should all hope that DVDs will be made from production so that it can be shared with students and the general public.


Spiritual Yards


What made the guided tour of the National Gallery's newest exhibition, Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica's Intuitives, extraordinary was that the guides sang and danced much of the commentary. Collectively they are The Nexus Performing Arts Company.

Its founder-leader, Hugh Douse, though dancing and singing with the rest, also paused occasionally to just speak to his audience.

The ensemble has a very broad musical repertoire, which includes gospel, Negro spirituals, semi-classical, reggae, show tunes, pop music, African and classical music - in short, music that can musically match just about any form of art. And the group drew on many of those types of music to provide the context for Douse's erudite and passionate comments on the art. The works come from the Wayne and Myrene Cox collection.

The formalities began with opening remarks by Wayne Cox and the gallery's curator, Verlee Poupeyee, and chairman, Senator Tom Tavares-Finson, among others. A release from the gallery explains that "the exhibition explores how many of the artists who have been recognised as Intuitives are rooted in popular religious and spiritual practices, especially the Revival religions and also Rastafari. Several produced or contributed to so-called spiritual yards, also known as home ground, or sacred spaces that featured ritual and symbolic objects and images that are meant engage or represent the spirits, which was either the start of their artistic practice or remained as its main focus."

The exhibition features the work of 10 artists, namely Errol Lloyd 'Powah' Atherton, Vincent Atherton, Everald Brown, Pastor Winston Brown, Leonard Daley, Reginald English, Elijah (Geneva Mais Jarrett), William 'Woody' Joseph, Errol McKenzie and Sylvester Stephens. There are also photographs and video material on their life, work and spiritual yards from the Cox's archives.

The exhibition will be in place until January 29 next year.