Arcola Theatre, London E8
Opened 8 October, 2007

Mustapha Matura's 1981 play about modernity and prosperity versus traditional values in Trinidad is given a beautiful staging by blue hug theatre company [sic]. I just can't help wondering why it has been revived. James Humphrey's remarkable design consists of a well equipped kitchen in which Trinidadian yuppie couple Hugh and Jean exchange details of their business days and the meetings they have had, and discuss their own lives on the same basis. So many meals and drinks need to be produced by the couple and the cook they later engage so that Hugh can indulge a sudden fondness for old-style Trini dishes; there is no time for onstage preparation. But director Dan Barnard ensures that the three performers conjure the stuff up without falling prey to "Here's one I prepared earlier" syndrome. Enough real work is shown that all feels natural.

It's a pity the same cannot be said of the play. Although Matura's notes speak of a "young" middle-class emerging in Trinidad at the time of writing, actor Nikolai La Barrie is nowhere near old enough to have sat (as Hugh says he once did) on a panel interviewing a school-leaver who is now the islands' Minister of Finance. Consequently, when Hugh begins to hanker after old cuisine and then old social values, it resembles less a man trying to reattain his childhood than one who has not yet grown up. For much of the first half the play feels more like a satire on inauthentic folksiness than on yuppiedom.

Nevertheless, La Barrie gives an excellent performance, equalled by Inika Leigh Wright as Jean, a PR executive pushing a new brand of cigarettes. When the couple have their inevitable second-act confrontation, we appreciate that each has a deep sense of duty and honour: Hugh, to the lifestyle and ethos he hungers to re-embrace; Jean, to transcend those same ways and thus redeem the sacrifices made by her family to give her a start in the world. From there, though, matters galumph to a crassly one-sided conclusion in which Hugh ascends to kinghood in the old Shango religion and Jean is repaid in kind for peddling all those gaspers. It must have looked unbalanced a generation ago; today, it seems so plonking as to call into question all of the preceding two hours, squandering all the company's admirable efforts and skills.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2007

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage