Rum and Coca Cola
Co-produced by Talawa Theatre Company, West Yorkshire Playhouse and English Touring Company
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
First performed at the Royal Court in 1976 Rum and Coca Cola is a seriously flawed play, and, although one well informed critic suggested that it's now ' a museum piece', this production is well worth seeing. And that 'museum piece' critique is well worth serious consideration.
The faults are big, obvious and unforgiveable. Firstly this is a fifty minute play spread over ninety minutes. Secondly it's not well spread: the first half does nothing more than entertain with songs and establish location and characters. If this was TV news we'd get as much information in two minutes. It's entertaining, but it ain't drama. The second half has all the plot.
I have one more complaint - later.
The play is a beautifully directed sequence of Trinidadian beach life for Professor (played by Victor Romero Evans) and his sidekick and apprentice Slim (Marcel McCalla). Professor is a thrice calypso king of Trinidad, now well gone on rum, but still with fire in his belly. Slim (a reformed character) wants to emulate the master. Two lovely and loving characters.
McCalla gives us a warm, interesting and charming Slim, but Victor Romero Evans gives us a wondrous fire cracker of an aging, pretentious, talented, anarchic, raddled and bedraggled artist. He is a joy to see as he struts his stuff like a randy bantam cock, then moves you to tears as a broken old man full of assorted pains. Evans brings Professor to life and in so doing puts himself amongst the top ranks of contemporary actors: catch the little mannerisms, e.g. the way he grips and tugs his trouser leg at just the right moment. Feel privileged to see superb acting.
Don Warrington's direction is solid and unpretentious. He gives sensitive and intelligent emotional foundations to the two characters and their interactions. The simple set, soundscape and lighting are well suited to the direction. So, brilliant as he is, there is more to this production that Evans. But why didn't Mustapha Matura take this as an opportunity to do a little plotting in the first act? A day on the word processor could have lead to massive improvement (and stopped the interval discussion of whether or not to go back in). The weak first half puts a strain on the evening and spoils what could be brilliant theatre.
And yes, one other thing, when Slim removes his trousers in order to sleep on the floor of a rudimentary shack we see.... pristine white boxer shorts: are we supposed to believe that? Bless!? Damn and blast, I'd say!
Running to 3rd April
Reviewer: Ray Brown