Yvonne Brewster surrounded by the cast and crew of Bella's Gate Boy.
Tanya Batson, Staff Reporter
TO SPEAK to Yvonne Brewster is to get swept up in an effusive personality that has had sufficient experience to overwhelm you with tales. The Jamaican-born citizen of the stage is currently credited as a respected and established director in Britain's theatre community.
Currently residing in Britain, Brewster is back on the island directing another noted Jamaican, Trevor Rhone. The two are working on Rhone's autobiography Bella's Gate Boy, which opened at the Barn Theatre on New Year's Eve.
The one-man play does not mark Brewster's first return to Jamaica. She first left for Britain in 1956 to study voice, speech and mime at the Rose Bruford College and the Royal Academy of Music. Since then, she has spent many stretches in the United Kingdom. Even so, Jamaica has also benefited from her work. Brewster has worked with local films such as Smile Orange and The Harder They Come, on which she was the production manager.
Bella's Gate Boy will also feature Alwin Scott alternating with Rhone.
Interestingly, The Barn Theatre is simply another mark in the long on and off relationship between Brewster and Rhone. The Barn, Brewster explained, was once her father's garage. The theatre, located on Oxford Road, was created by Rhone and Brewster.
Having worked in theatre, television, film and radio, Brewster feels very satisfied about her career. "I've been extremely lucky," she said. "I haven't been rich, but money isn't every thing. I've never really done anything I wasn't very happy with."
This does not mean, however, that she is drowning in a sea of self-congratulatory pomposity. Brewster argues that when one becomes self-satisfied they eventually become boring. She has directed numerous productions worldwide, including Nanny of the Maroons in New York, The Importance of Being Earnest in Ireland and The Lover in Florence, Italy. Added to that, she has received the Order of the British Empire, The Living Legend Award (from the NBT Festival, United States) and several others, but still says "In your heart you know that anything you do could have been better."
For this reason, she believes that in the world of theatre one fails more than they succeed.
Recognising that failure is a part of the script she has chosen, Brewster explains that she has learnt to deal with criticism. She notes that there are two kinds of critics. "I had to learn to really just listen to everybody and nobody," she says. "But primarily in this business (theatre) you have to listen to yourself, and if that fails you..."
She notes that even though she may learn from those who have legitimate grouses with her work she cannot say that the criticism does not hurt. "I'm not a bull-nosed terrier," she explains.
Nonetheless, according to Brewster, what she is looking for is work that can challenge her ingenuity. The woman who has staged productions at the Cork Opera Theatre and in an ordinary bathroom (the production was aptly titled The Loo) wants to push the barrier. She explains that theatre is about the 'suspension of disbelief'. She explains: "It's about holding the mirror up to life and if you don't hold it up all you see is yourself really small."
In the case of Bella's Gate Boy, the mirror is being held up to Trevor Rhone's life. "I'm not sure anyone will be interested in seeing it, but they will be missing something interesting (if they do not see it)," she said of the production.
Brewster noted that the two actors she works with in this production, Scott and Rhone, are very different. She described the production as 'dangerous territory' in part, because though their paths have often crossed she has not worked much with Rhone.
Additionally, she notes that though he is a trained actor he has not been on the stage in many, many years, which makes him a very different actor from one who practices their craft daily.
Scott is such an actor. Incidentally, Brewster's history with Scott also goes way back. She notes that she first cast the actor for a BBC version of My Father Son-Son Johnson when he was only 12 years old.
Due to the differences in the two men, Brewster believes that each actor will create a very different product in Bella's Gate Boy.
However the production may fare on the local scene, Brewster is intent on challenging her horizons. Currently, she has a production also set to start playing in the United Kingdom and she also intends to direct Tennessee Williams' Sunday Last Summer in the United States later this year.