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'Combolo': A historical yawn
published: Tuesday | January 20, 2004

By Tanya Batson-Savage, Staff Reporter

'Sly Mongoose' displays more vanity than wily ways as he helps to lead the search for the 'Arawaks' in Combolo. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

COMBOLO, THE 2003/4 National Pantomime, is not a particularly bright comedy and it groans loudly under the pressure of being an unimaginative re-make. The production, staged by the Little Theatre Movement Company, opened on Boxing Day and is currently playing at The Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Drive, St. Andrew.

Combolo is the second pantomime remake of a Barbara Gloudon script in as many years. Both productions were rewritten by Gloudon and directed by Robert Clarke.

Last year the company revamped 1975's The Witch, creating Miss Annie, which was a much more successful venture in large part because of the performance of Nadean Rawlins and the stage craft of Michael Lorde and Anya Gloudon-Nelson.

This year the pantomime took 1972's Hail Colombus and dragged out Combolo. However, despite the continued impressive stage craft applied to the production, there is little else that is remarkable.


The opening scene is the most impressive piece of the production. It presents a storm which washes Christopher Columbus (a descendant of the 15th century explorer) and his two companions ashore.

The magnificent scene features a tossing sea, battered banana trees and well-used sound effects. Unfortunately, the rest of the play fails to live up to its promise of an energetic and inventive production.

Combolo remained visually impressive throughout. Michael Lordes' set creation was very visually pleasing. In particular was the creation of the interior of the 'Cacique's' home and the special costumes. Rather than buildings, Combolo called for the creation of several open spaces. This was often achieved through dramatic and lavishly colourful backdrops painted by Kirk Nunes.

Combolo is based on the idea that Christopher Columbus' descendant (who bears the same name) comes to Jamaica to seek out 'Awaraks' and apologise to them. In doing so he meets up with the 'Jah Mek Yans', who act as his guides.


Where Combolo struggled most was in the writing and the performance. Rawlins, who takes on the role of 'Mama Cacique' (Barbara Johnson alternates in the role) possesses a strong voice and presence which are well suited to the role. Her commanding stature as 'Mama Cacique' is quite believable.

However, the role still suffers from the fact that it was not well crafted. It is a tragic fate to which they all fall. The characters which people Combolo are a very uninteresting lot.

As such, despite decent performances by Rawlins, Kevin Roache (Combolo) and Faith Buckner (Periwinkle), the production sags badly. Buckner was very well suited to her role and bloomed in it.

Roache has certainly developed well as an actor over the past few years, from which his portrayal of Combolo benefited. Even so, the fact that he has a British accent detracted greatly from it. 'Combolo's' shipmate 'Roderigo' (Oliver Gordon) shared the same misplaced accent. Carlton Butler, who played the third Spaniard, 'Don Diego Dutty Water', at least had a smidgen of the requisite accent at the beginning of the production, though he lost it somewhere toward intermission.


On a more damaging scale, however, was the nature of the jokes, far too many of which were at best redundant. It should be noted that 'mad, sick, head no good' is a one-liner whose time is now past. Having been used in every possible scenario over the last year, the last vestige of humour left it eons ago. Jokes such as these are nails in laughter's coffin.

The 'Jah Mek Yans', of whom 'Flitters' (Ronald Millwood), 'Bitter Cassava' (Peter Heslop) and 'Manish Water' (Clayton Lynch), are the most prominent, are overly unfunny. Playing into the farce elements of the production, these three are a mass of exaggerated motions, but to little avail. Of the lot 'Bitter Cassava' was the easiest to swallow, because he at least had the rare funny line.

Should any 'Tainos' actually be left in this country, they should rise up and revolt at Gloudon and Robert Clarke 's portrayal of them. The 'Awaraks' (as they are called in the production) are mainly women. But despite the strength of the 'Cacique' and their princess, all they do all day is gossip and giggle inanely. To make it worse, their idea of a giggle is very reminiscent of the cuckoos from Ice Age.

It is remotely possible that the very young may enjoy what little humour there is in the production. However, most adults may only encounter a powerful yawn-inducing agent.

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