Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
A lot has been said this year about Jamaica's 50th year of Independence from Great Britain. But had it not been for the arduous journey to Emancipation in 1834, Independence would not have been possible. This seemed to be the thinking by the Little Theatre Movement as it staged the 2012 heritage series, Augus Mawnin: A Tribute to the Ancestors.
Augus Mawnin: A Tribute to the Ancestors is a remount of a 1997 production, and as the programme notes stated, with "some changes from the original" production.
And so with the cast dressed in period costumes, a practical set and some fine acting, the Barbara Gloudon-penned script was a montage of anecdotal tales of life on the plantation.
The story is about a group of slaves on their way to hear the declaration of freedom being read. The group comprises house and field slaves. Without permission from their owner, they are terrified of being seen by "backra" soldiers.
Along their journey they stumble on a hut owned by an old woman, Yemojah (Barbara Johnson), in a cane field. Here, they not only find temporary shelter, but had the opportunity to relate graphic tales of life before and during slavery.
In one of the rather entertaining tales, two house slaves, Bessie and her husband Tamas (Cecelia McCarthy and Cadine Hall), tell of dinner at the big house.
The rather comical scene not only addresses the disparity between the menu of the slaves and their owners, but also takes a satirical look on the uneducated mistress.
This was highlighted through the use of malapropism. Imagine a person confusing the word 'recipe' with 'receipt'. And from the resounding confirmation from the two house slaves the error does not come from them.
After the sound of approaching horses, the band of runaway slaves continue their journey into town. But Bessie begins to find the journey too much for her and her hand-me-down dress, and so wants to turn back. Her request is seen by the field slaves as an act of weakness. Tamas has to defend his wife's honour. This results in a fight that is stopped quickly by Delmina (Marvette Murphy-Davis), the spiritual leader in the group.
And some time after, with the use of songs to mark the journey, they arrive at their destination and hear the declaration read by a backra massa.
And with the news they begin to celebrate with Bruckins and frantic Jonkanoo celebrations.
The dialogue of Gloudon's characters was entertainingly funny, and balanced by creative and timely placement of different genres of familiar songs and poems.
Different degrees of freedom
It was also clear that one of the overriding messages was that Emancipation meant different degrees of freedom: it was freedom to take a rest when they are tired. It was freedom to reclaim their names; and freedom to start a fresh.
But in addition to a strong message, at the heart of any play is the work of the actors and the director.
Either can make or break the production. There is no breaking here. The large cast also included Faith Bucknor (Fulani) and Kevin Halstead (Smit and Backra on the horse).
The emphasis of the historical drama was not so much on character growth but on playing several roles. Here the cast came through.
They were all committed to the task and captured the different roles as illustrated in the dramatisation of Lorna Goodison's Annie Pengelley.
Likewise, for the most part, there was some good placement of the actors on the stage throughout. But there were times when it seemed that little attention was paid to sight lines. This meant that audience sitting extreme right or left missed out on seeing some important action that occurred in stages right and left.
The Symone Coombs- and Anya Gloudon-developed set was practical and suitable for the small Little Little Theatre stage located on the grounds of the Little Theatre. Their props and costumes also provided the required spectacular.
Finally, when the curtains came down on Sunday's staging of Augus Mawnin: A Tribute to the Ancestors, many walked out with the feeling that it was a good production.