Arts on Sunday – Link Show 25: ‘A good time was had by all’

It is an emphatically triumphant return.  It is Link Show 25, a very significant milestone in the history of the Link, which had its first performance in 1981, and in the statement it makes in Guyanese theatre.  This triumph may also be regarded as an achievement for the producers of the show, The Theatre Company led by Ron Robinson, and GEMS Theatre Productions led by Gem Madhoo-Nascimento.  This twenty-fifth production is a celebration because 25 is always regarded as a particularly special anniversary.  In addition, over those years the revue took its place as one of the important traditions and as the most popular event in Guyanese theatre.

The show’s triumph is not only the fact of its return but its significance because of the interesting links which it makes.  It stands as a link between the contemporary Guyanese theatre and its previous age; between the Guyanese and the Caribbean theatre traditions; between Guyanese popular theatre and its audience; and between the two leading companies.

The Link represents a long-standing tradition of annual satirical revues in the theatre of the Caribbean.  This tradition has been strong in indigenous forms, in the popular theatre and especially on the Jamaican stage.  Except for the Jamaica Pantomime and Barbados’ Laff It Off, annual revues have faded and that is why the continuation and success of the Link is important.  The show is a link between the old Guyanese theatre of a previous age represented by the Theatre Guild of the previous generation and the contemporary theatre that developed out of that.  It was the inaugural production of the Theatre Company founded by Robinson and Madhoo in 1981 which moved local drama from the Guild into its present dispensation including the popular and the commercial.

This link with the old Guild also includes how The Link Show got its name, and where it came from.  It is a newer revised version of an old series that flourished at the Guild in the 1960s and 1970s.  That was The Brink which was led by Frank Pilgrim and it is encouraging that this debt is fully acknowledged in the Programme Notes of Link Show 25.

Another link is of the two companies that jointly produced number 25.  Madhoo was a partner in the Theatre Company and the show until 2002 when she established GEMS Theatre Productions.  Now the two institutions have collaborated to bring about the return of the annual series.
The production’s return in 2009 is therefore a triumph and worthy of celebration for all those reasons.  However, most important of all, its triumph may also be found in its artistic and theatrical success.  Link Show 25 is without doubt among the very best that the series has produced, and most likely the best that has ever been produced in all of the 25 Link Shows.

It is an achievement for the director Ron Robinson, the stage management (La Vonne George, Nicola Moonsammy), the team of scriptwriters and the actors.  To a large extent it represents what the Link Show has always wanted to be but often was not − that is, the polished creation of a real satirical production treating topical issues and social behaviour in good humour and effective presentation.  In the past there have been many departures from this when what was presented could not be called good social satire and at times was even politically destructive.  Number 25 was a professional performance of lampoon and take-off which was skilfully directed and in which the actors understood the required styles of farce and take-off; timing was exquisite and pace was an appropriate clip which moved along a show that was just a bit too long.

The scripts were much more efficient than most that have been seen, hardly ever laboured and  moving very well to strong, often hilarious punch-lines.  There was a good deal of wit and dialogue that worked naturally.  At times it seemed apparent that the dialogue was developed from ad-lib and improvisation but there was a seamless flow between that and what was strictly scripted.  The actors were in command of this and handled it so smoothly that the difference was immaterial.

Howard Lorrimer and Troy Parboo in rehearsal
Howard Lorrimer and Troy Parboo in rehearsal

Creative ideas were exploited in the use of multi-media.  The video-taped projections supported the performance in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it was back-drop, sometimes it provided set or support to the set, and very interestingly, it was sometimes even an actor providing the action in skits where no words were used − or were necessary.  Attention was also paid to miming without words where body language and posters supported a skit, and this non-verbal performance was understood by the performers.  Close and detailed attention was paid to costume and make-up, particularly in roles requiring take-off of known personalities.  In these cases characters were well studied and portrayed.

The intention to effect satire was so focused that most of the laughter and even the ‘quickies’ were not mere run-of-the-mill jokes, but had satirical content.  Not that the more ordinary categories were totally absent, but there was no preponderance of the mere repeat of prevailing rumours for gratuitous consumption.  Topical humour of this nature thrives on popular rumours and the stories that circulate on the streets, but these were sufficiently effectively used in Link Show 25 that they managed to pass without jarring notice, or in some cases were ably incorporated in some meaningful commentary.  Even the several one-liners of sexual innuendo in which popular humour has its greatest currency were mostly very witty or delivered with fine-tuned timing.

Other elements of a satirical revue that had not been properly utilised in the past were much better handled in this production.  Included among these was the use of dance.  In this tradition dance was hardly a mere filler, put in as slap-stick, or a variety distraction; it was supposed to serve as a part of or a vehicle for commentary.  There was evidence in this show of dance which was either effectively used in this way or was an amusing interpretation of a song that made enough of a comment to justify its place.
The 2009 renewal of this series was therefore an all-round success and a decided improvement on its predecessors.  It covered very much material, much of which was repeated in different skits and, despite its success, a show that gets to 3 hours playing time as this one did, becomes too lengthy.  Were it not for the crisp pace and the richness of the presentation it would surely have felt a bit heavy.

It treated its audience to a field day that they no doubt looked forward to including much of the juiciest gossip and the most fertile myths and rumours.  These included the vice and folly of some public officials including government ministers and the Opposition Leader recently in the news and deserving of ridicule.  Some of the more unfortunate public statements from those in authority were not spared.

However, no topic was more eagerly awaited and looked forward to than the audience’s favourite − a treatment of the President’s domestic affairs and recent separation from his wife.  This was most often well done, always very witty and good fun, mostly at the expense of the lady, but got a bit beaten and perhaps over-done.  On at least one occasion it was libellous, and if Mr Jagdeo’s lawyer is paying any attention, he could have a good day in court.  But most likely neither he nor his client would care to bother.  But never mind, in 1993 the domestic affairs of Britain’s royal family were so publicly pounded that Queen Elizabeth declared it an “annus horribilis.”

But for The Link Show 2009 it was an annus mirabilis in which it achieved both popular and critical acclaim.  There were not many bad skits in the show, but what were the best pieces?  In order of appearance (not of merit), ‘Link Scriptwriters’ Meeting,’ ‘Brickdam,’ ‘Cocaine and You,’ ‘Who wants to be a Pensionaire,’ ‘Climate Change,’ ‘Big Belly Man,’ ‘The Vice of the People,’ ‘Al Qaeda Recruits’ and ‘Definition of Torture.’  Those were the best put together and presented in terms of satire and completeness, giving great truth to the cliché “and a good time was had by all.”

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