Playboy of the West Indies

Mustapha Matura
Tricycle, Kilburn
(2004)

Poster for Playboy of the West Indies

The Tricycle's artistic director, Nicolas Kent has a long and intimate relationship with this Caribbean rewrite of J M Synge's Irish Classic Playboy of the Western World.

While working with the Oxford Playhouse Company in the early 1980s, he commissioned the play that was first seen at the Tricycle in 1984. It returned for a 10th anniversary production in 1994 and therefore perhaps it was inevitable that he would be directing this production a further 10 years later.

Pleasingly, the historical feel is also maintained by the recasting of some actors who appeared in the two earlier productions; and the presence of the playwright at the opening night.

The play is set in a laid-back bar in a little fishing village in Trinidad. The ramshackle hut and distant palm trees, courtesy of designer Adrianne Lobel, together with the sometimes unintelligible patois (helped by a glossary in the programme) give a real sense of location.

Barman Mikey's daughter, Peggy, seems far too bold a lass to fall for the hopeless, money-driven Stanley (Ben Bennett), who looks as if he will fall over his own feet. Sharon Duncan-Brewster is both funny and convincing as the woman who immediately falls for a mysterious stranger Ken, well played by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

His attraction is the fact that he is both a murderer on the run and an innocent. The description of his patricide "Dead like a ripe mango" should be enough to turn any girl's head and soon, not only is Peggy in love but so are a couple of giggling schoolgirls and Joy Richardson's hilarious Mama Benin, a lecherous voodoo priestess.

Soon, the whole place is awash with rumours and admiration. Seemingly the only thing that can stop our hero in his tracks is the local policeman who never visits the village. Either that or Danny John Jules playing a horribly bloodied father - a cutlass victim returned from the grave.

After a fight or two and a view of the fickleness of the lovely Peggy, father and son eventually bury the cutlass and, miraculously, the village's residents all attain a new level of wisdom.

Nicolas Kent's production always maintains pace and there is plenty of humour, particularly when the alcohol is flowing. This is a fine finale to what has been a very interesting autumn season at the Tricycle, following Irish and Jewish classics.

Despite a recent TheatreVOICE debate, reported in the Daily Telegraph, it is hard to believe that there is not a disproportionately small amount of black drama to be seen in London. It is therefore very pleasing that the Tricycle is working so hard to ensure that this changes forever, as this play is followed by the world premiere of One Under by Winsome Pinnock.

Steve Orme reviewed this production at Nottingham Playhouse

Reviewer: Philip Fisher