We need to have our wits about us

Again this year the Link Show was a huge popular success. In the aftermath of an election which has led as usual to rancorous exchanges, continuing bitterness, and unresolved political differences of a serious and potentially explosive nature, the Link Show still manages to bring relief and laughter to large audiences.

In expressing great pleasure over the Link’s enduring success, I declare an interest in that I am not only an old friend of Ron Robinson and Gem Madhoo-Nascimento,  and an admirer of their matchless contributions to theatre in Guyana, but I am also a Director of the Theatre Company which along with Gem Productions produces the Link Show. But I can truthfully say also as a member of the Link audience over many years that I have had my share of boisterous laughs and have taken vicarious pleasure in the evident joyfulness of the packed houses at the Cultural Centre. The Link Show has become a national cultural institution.

There is something in the criticism that Link Shows tend to be repetitious, but then the dilemmas of life and the hilarious obtuseness and pomposity of officialdom also tend to be repetitious. It is true also that many themes worthy of satire are not touched, but then to have touched all such available themes in Guyana would have been to extend the Link to the length of a mediaeval passion play.

There is an honourable tradition in providing pure, festive sometimes salacious entertainment mixed with satire. I am sure Ron Robinson and Gem Madhoo-Nascimento in devising their Link Show have read Sir Philip Sidney, 16th century poet and author of the famous text Defence of Poetry, who defined good comedy as “an imitation of the common errors of our life, which are representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be, so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one.”

But the man for pure, belly-aching, infectious laughter at the theatre was Thomas Dekker whom I dearly love. If you have not read or seen his play The Shoemakers’ Holiday, first produced in 1600, you have missed a great deal. It’s bawdy, anti-authoritarian jesting, its exuberant songs, its spirit of festive comedy is pure holiday theatre, a chance for people to seek relief from life’s myriad stresses and join the fun.

I am only sorry that more of Dekker’s plays have not been preserved. Dekker, who lived in Shakespeare’s time, is said to have written no less than 42 plays but only a handful survive. The English antiquarian and book collector, John Warburton, in the 18th century collected many of Dekker’s play in manuscript. These were the only copies that existed. But one day, when Warburton was out, his cook had to do some baking and came across the manuscripts, whereupon all but three of the precious manuscripts were, it is recorded, “unluckily burned or put under Pye Bottoms.” Poor Thomas Dekker! It is the sort of thing you could imagine happening in our National Archives in the bad old days.

At any rate I am sure that neither Ron nor Gem would disagree with Thomas Dekker when he declared in his preface to The Shoemakers’ Holiday: “Nothing is purposed but mirth; mirth lengtheneth long life.” And I am certain that they, and indeed every theatre-lover worth his or her salt, would enthusiastically agree with Dekker that while critics have their place yet – “Your car-man and your tinker,” as Dekker wrote in 1609, “claim as strong a voice in their suffrage, and sit to give judgement on the play’s life and death, as well as the proudest Momus among the tribe of critics.”

In these times we need our Thomas Dekkers and our Link Shows. When national life grows embittered and tense that is when we need all the sense of humour and the play of wit we can summon. When politicians fight in earnest all jokes, all jests, all laughter go out the window of good sense. The expression of humour establishes a sense of proportion. It is the sister of compassion and the brother of goodwill. But in the sort of bitterly partisan politics which continue to afflict the nation a sense of humour tends to disappear entirely. In more than one sense, therefore, we will need to have our wits about us if we are to survive the very unhumorous, very unfestive days that threaten to beset us.

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