Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Is September the month to remember?

Published:Thursday | September 14, 2023 | 12:06 AM
Late Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone.
Late Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone.


September 15th this year marks 14 years since the ‘father of Jamaican theatre’, Trevor Rhone, left us in the flesh. How do we remember him and what he brought to stage and film? Top of the list of his credits is co-writing the unforgettable story that helped to bring reggae to the attention of the world: The Harder They Come. It inspired Michael Thelwell to write a novel and, 50 years after its release, we have seen it recreated on stage in New York City.

Rhone’s first runaway hit for the stage – Smile Orange – has also lived on, thanks to the silver screen. I wonder, will we ever have a film made of the classic Old Story Time? I hope so. I know that it was video recorded with three noteworthy thespians; Leonie Forbes and Winston ‘Bello’ Bell – both of blessed memory – and Alwyn Scott in the role of Len. The tapes are part of Rhone’s collection donated to the UWI Mona Library and Special Collections after his passing. Efforts are currently under way to catalogue the items so that they can become available to the wider public. But the task has built-in challenges, like the necessary equipment to play VHS tapes, cassettes and reel-to-reel audio tapes. As technology quickly evolves, much of our archival material becomes difficult to access and demands digitisation. Again a challenge – facilities and funding.

Another memorable production was Two Can Play, capturing the tensions and political violence of the late 1970s. It too was filmed, this time by a television station in the USA. Does that version still exist? It’s great that the script has also been published, like Smile Orange, School’s Out, Old Story Time and his autobiographical one-man show Bellas Gate Boy, which came with a CD (what will a new edition use, I wonder?) which, thankfully, captures Rhone’s deep, mellifluous voice. I can still remember the sound of it in that ad: “The earth is rich…”, although the rest of the line has faded now …

This, I fear, is the likely fate of so much that was wonderful and engaging and meaningful in Rhone’s work, as time rolls by and the material objects deteriorate. Donating to the library is an important move; but then questions arise: How well resourced are our libraries for this demanding task of maintaining an archive? How can we effectively keep the memories alive and continue to benefit from this significant work? What value do we place on heritage and legacy? Do we give it more than mere lip service?

Some 40 years ago, in an attempt to understand what had made them work so well on the stage, I wrote an MA research paper on Rhone’s published plays. Maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes me want to see them all again; but I do feel there are some things that have lasting value and should not be allowed to slip away into oblivion.


Independent Scholar