Seun Shote in Play Mas
Brimming with irony and hilarious observation, Matura’s writing deconstructs the political landscape of his homeland with phenomenal insight.
Carnival is coming! In 1950s Trinidad, the island is preparing for the upcoming jubilation. For two days the port will explode in a frenzy of colour, music and dancing as Trinidadians play mas. All except shrewd tailor Ramjohn who abstains due to his Hindu faith. His assistant, Samuel on the other hand is a disciple of the carnival tradition and has been planning his costume for weeks. But carnival anticipation is not the only movement sweeping through Trinidad. The colony is on the threshold of independence and Dr. Williams’ PNM party is gaining aggressive momentum. Amidst the feathers and calypso beat Samuel finds himself drawn into the political revelry and is seduced by the benefits it brings. In Play Mas, Mustapha Matura’s award winning play, we watch the evolution of a country though one man’s journey. In this tale of corruption and duplicity, once the music stops the real masquerade begins.
Brimming with irony and hilarious observation, Matura’s writing deconstructs the political landscape of his homeland with phenomenal insight. The tailor’s shop which is the sole scene of the show’s first half, acts as a microcosm for the entire country. Racial tensions, national pride, poverty, idolisation of America and the reliance on British funds are all alluded to amongst the fabric scraps. Presented in Trini dialect, the dialogue is energetic and full of simile. It is fantastically funny; a great deal of the comedy comes from the undulating flow of affirmations and cadenced reiterations. This effusive tone is set by the opening scene which sees the Samuel acting as a go between for Ramjohn and his mother. Johann Myers plays Ramjohn with mesmerising physical energy as he describes the double breasted suit of his dreams. Throughout the narrative, Samuel played by Seun Shote ascends from tailor’s assistant to Commissioner of Police. Shote maintains the same ardent enthusiasm throughout, making his underlying transformation all the more sinister. His interrogations and artful deals are all executed under the guise of friendship.
Seun Shote, Rob Heanley, Johann Myers in Play Mas
The cast give an outstandingly authentic performance, both farcical and heartfelt in its effervescent tone
The timing within this production is essential and achieves optimum effect under the skilful direction of Paulette Randall. A side splitting moment occurs when Ramjohn’s mother played by Melanie La Barrie greets a lucrative English customer in her best sari, claiming she wasn’t expecting him. Everyone is keeping up a façade, which is central to the play’s subtext and the carnival setting acts as an allegory. The surreal scenes where characters enter Ramjohn’s shop in their costumes and deliver their soliloquies are especially vivid. Victor Romero Evans’ Midnight Robber monologue bristles with menace.
Seun Shote in Play Mas
The two halves of the play are separated into pre and post independent Trinidad. What a difference a few years makes! The same main characters deliver the same engaging rhetoric but the dynamic has shifted considerably. Trinidad is now under a state of emergency, and any rebellious activity is controlled though martial law. Samuel now greets his former boss Ramjohn from behind a mahogany desk, wearing New York couture and a practiced grin. This scene presents a stark contrast between the official and the domestic effects of post-colonial Trinidad. The island is now divided into the bourgeois followers of Dr. Williams and those up the hill living hand to mouth.
Play Mas is vigorous, comical and profoundly insightful. Matura’s canny writing expounds the realities of imperialism with wit and humanity. The cast give an outstandingly authentic performance, both farcical and heartfelt in its effervescent tone - a stirring production, which draws the audience into the everlasting circus of disguise.
Get 20 per cent off all performances to see Play Mas until 28 March with promo code ‘Afridiziak’.
Interview with Mustapha Matura