For the Reckord | Luke Ellington, an accidental theatre practitioner
"It happen by accident," Luke Ellington replied when I asked him how he got involved in theatre. "Is a girl force me to go see a play (Scandal), an I kinda got hooked." Actually, he got firmly hooked. He became an actor, director, playwright and producer and he's been in the business for 30 years. The flyer on his current production, Uptown Ghetto, at the Crown Playhouse, 53 Molynes Road, proudly declares as much.
Evolving from a man who initially thought "only certain types of people go to plays," he now says he enjoys all his roles in theatre equally.
However, he finds producing more burdensome than acting and only acts in plays he's producing "in an emergency". Asked why the ads feature him as one of the actors of Uptown Ghetto, he said he was only an understudy.
Ellington happily classifies his plays as 'roots' but sees no difference between them and mainstream comedies.
"The only difference," he says, "may be they trying to use proper English in their plays, but we're telling the same Jamaican stories."
Substance over slackness
He added that the 'slackness' found in some other productions is absent in his, which suggested he write family shows; and there were children the theatre. One of them, a girl under 10, laughed loudly when water was flung on an onstage character to revive him after he had fallen to the ground in a faint.
Acknowledging that his sets are simpler than those in most mainstream productions, he explains, "I travel to the 14 parishes and my set has to be easy to move. You have to make it so you can tour. The mainstream productions don't tour like me." (In fact, the mainstream producers who do tour tend to go international rather than national.)
The first Uptown Ghetto character to appear is Arthur (played by Joshua Tomlin), who comes out of an attractive house to water the garden. We learn that the location is an upscale community when Junie (Georgette Wright) comes in asking Arthur for a job.
She is quickly followed by Ranger (Leighton Smith), her boyfriend, who wants to rent part of the house, and then Chimpy (Christopher Ricketts), Ranger's younger brother, who demands a part of the property on which they can construct their own home. And the story moves onward rapidly with more and more pressure being put on Arthur to open his premises to the newcomers.
Another person applying pressure is Gigi (Latoya Malcolm), Chimpy's girlfriend. A 'sketel' and a virago, she is also quite attractive in her skimpy, tight-fitting clothes, and when she offers sexual favours to Arthur in return for accommodation in his house, he has trouble resisting.
His low-energy pushback on the invasion of the premises is eventually explained, at which time the play becomes less fanciful than it initially appears. Hints as to what is going on are frequently dropped by the playwright, and as the play heads to the final scene and all is revealed, we get to appreciate its very clever structure.
Essentially, the play is a comedy, but beneath the surface laughter, the playwright asks us to consider some serious issues. He suggests that leaving the 'ghetto' and moving to an uptown community could change attitudes to education and to man-woman relations (including marriage), as well as to one's chances of getting a job. Chimpy echoes the well-known complaint that though he has numerous CSEC subjects, because of where he lives, he's not offered a job.
Ellington's set is both attractive and functional, the actors are confident, the lines are funny, and, as is traditional in farces, the play ends with the characters chasing one another around the stage. I suggest, however, that Ellington, as writer and director, cut the play by 20 minutes. It need not run over two hours. Uptown Ghetto continues at Crown Playhouse until the end of the month, after which it goes on tour. Starting off with a staging in St Thomas on May 5, it moves on to Mandeville (May 6), Savanna-la-Mar (May 12) and then May Pen on Mother's Day, May 13.
"I've actually started promoting those shows already," said Ellington, as producer.