High farce and low in Link Show 31

– Madhoo-Nascimento and Robinson maintaining Caribbean satirical tradition

Link Show 31 continues its historical run as the most significant achievement in Guyanese theatre. It has sustained its position as a Guyanese tradition: a most popular theatrical event and the most successful satirical performance. But perhaps more importantly, after 31 productions since 1981, it has become one of the strongest annual dramatic productions and one of only three of its type to have survived in the Caribbean satirical tradition.

The Link Show is therefore unique as a satirical revue. It is directed by Ron Robinson and produced by Gem Madhoo-Nascimento in a joint presentation by The Theatre Company and GEMS Theatre Productions. This combination has worked well since Link Show 25 in 2009, bringing the annual series to its best ever quality and arriving at a settled standard of technical and artistic proficiency, a suitable playing style and management.

Number 31, which is scheduled to end tonight, is a mixture of comic performances. It is high farce with a cast that has acquired command of this style in the delivery of lines and treatment of material designed to delight the audience. It is also low farce, and this year it tends to depend on more slapstick and camp than is normally found in The Link in this current period of its best performances. Many of the skits leant on farce for the delivery of humour, while some of the stock items are written for camp, such as the piece titled “Slack Mash Camp”. (The word “camp” in this title is only coincidental – it refers to the Mashramani band costume camp and not “camp” as a performance type.)

20110807artsonsunday The strengths of this revue, are, however, in its ability to satirise and to turn even some of the brief “Quickies” into items which make social commentary. When this worked, it worked very well, as in the piece lampooning police Commander Hickens’s recent remark about rape, which evoked much general rebuke and feminist criticism. This was ‘take-off’ working quite effectively in social satire. There were also some of the usual fixed items in the series which continued to be stand-outs, such as “Deolatchmee” the telephone monologue which has retained its place after several years. It was made successful by Richard Narine who took it to a high point and now Nirmala Narine has made it her niche, repeating her effective deliveries in this edition of the show. It is good take-off because of how it uses a persona in dramatic monologue to cover a range of social and political items in good humour. Another in this line is the lecture by Professor Havingsport played by Robinson himself, based on wit.

This creative dramatic treatment of issues differed quite significantly from those that merely listed things as happened in some of the skits, particularly those dealing with political issues. It was very predictable that the government (as usual), political parties and the general elections would be prime targets for lampoon in 2015, given the development of recent events. True to form then, politics dominated Link Show 31. This did not always work to its merit as here was where some scripts were little more than the recitation of a list of issues, grievances, atrocities or characteristics which often proved repetitive.

 

A scene from Link Show 31
A scene from Link Show 31

Generally, the quality of the scripts was mixed. In some instances, adding to the undramatic lists were some weak punch-lines, and in this kind of fast-moving theatre of wit, sharp, hilarious punch-lines are important. There were some of those, too, but the need for tightening in the writing was still felt in other instances. Another area in need of tightening were the transitions and scene changes that The Link had brought to such levels of efficiency that they became seamless and brisk. In this edition many of them were slow and kept the audience waiting in the black longer than has been customary, probably because a number of skits tended to use many stage props and different sets.

A few of the several political skits contained the worst of Link Show 31, but the treatment of politics also accounted for some of the best. The show had a particularly strong ending in the way it moved from the item “Party Battle” into the finale “Final Dance”. It excelled noticeably here in a number of different ways.

If it is ever possible for a satirical revue of this type to have closing catharsis, this one did. Not only did it seem to try to achieve non-partisan positions in dealing with political criticism, but it managed to communicate this using a number of elements of stage-craft. After a piece showing polarisation with a crowd being drawn back and forth between political camps, the scene moved into and ended with a resolution and a message of unity, one-ness and patriotism. It was emotionally effective and ran the risk of achieving some modicum of healing in the fractious, divisive and apparently unhealable political rift that exists in Guyana. In its management of satirical resources it may be said that the show attempted this at the end.

Another strong point of the current Link Show is the way it draws on multi-media presentation – video, music and now dance. Sometimes in a number of dramatic presentations these are used as appendices tacked on without contribution to the plot. But in this show they managed to serve as satirical material as happened in video and dance. Not for the first time it was observed how the choreographer (in this case, Leslyn Bobb-Semple) managed to get practically the whole cast, including many non-dancers, to dance decent moves in good time and formation. This time and most recently it was also observed the way dance was integrated as a part of the satirical commentary. The closing dance here helped to make the patriotic statement essayed by The Link in its final word. This achievement helped to elevate the show and put a bit of depth into its overall effect at the end.

All told Link Show 31 was not as brilliant as, say Numbers 25 and 26, and perhaps even Number 30, but the high levels of proficiency, direction, acting style and management sustained since 2009 is unprecedented. Moreover, regardless of what fluctuations in overall quality there might be, there are very important factors which give the Link Show a decidedly prominent position in not only Guyanese but Caribbean theatre.

In Guyana today, there are two comedy shows notable for their immediate popularity and box office power – Uncensored and Nothing to Laugh About produced by Lyndon Jones and Maria Benschop. They have gathered momentum over the past six years and have joined the tradition of performance humour in the Caribbean which has a very long history and is part of the ancient custom of humour and picong in Caribbean society since slavery. They have come down in the vaudeville in which the region revelled throughout the twentieth century and which gave rise to a number of prominent and outstanding comedians. Some of them changed the main shape of stand-up comedy in the region.

In this wide tradition, Guyana’s Link Show holds a special place. When it was founded by Robinson and Madhoo operating as The Theatre Company in 1981, it was virtually founding the commercial/professional theatre in Guyana. It pioneered drama as a business and source of earning for many actors and directors and other practitioners in the country. It was at the core of the development of modern Guyanese theatre that saw its most decisive period of growth after 1980. The Link Show has that long history behind it and it became the most popular with record runs of several nights per year.

The Caribbean satirical tradition is very old with roots in slavery and traditional folk performance. But foremost on the formal stage has been two institutions – the annual Jamaica Pantomime and a whole series of annual satirical revues around the Caribbean in Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad. Jamaica established a few such as Eight O’Clock Jamaica Time (which always began at 8.30) and Rahtid!; Barbados established Bimshire and Laff It Off; Guyana established The Brink followed by The Link; while Trinidad has had various versions, most recently efforts by Raymond Choo Kong and Penelope Spencer.

Out of all of those the only survivors are the Pantomime, which is the strongest, Laff It Off and The Link. Pantomime contains a mix of traditions, but The Link Show is straight revue, making it unique in the region as a lonely survivor. The three institutions here mentioned now have the responsibility of preserving the mighty Caribbean satirical tradition on the formal dramatic stage. It is a huge responsibility. In Jamaica, the Little Theatre Movement has incorporated a special company to run the Pantomime and ensure its financial viability and survival. Laff it Off is not that stable.

This puts increased pressure on Robinson and Madhoo Nascimento to ensure that The Link Show does not collapse like those others over the last 30 years. Those that have faded have taken with them large parts of a powerful regional tradition. What remains depends on the surviving shows such as The Link. It is that important.

The cast of 2015 included Henry Rodney, Sonia Yarde, Leslyn Bobb-Semple, Nicola Moonsammy, Michael Ignatius, Simone Dowding, Tashandra Inniss, Sean Budnah, Paul Budnah, Mark Kazim, Mark Luke-Edwards, Nirmala Narine, Nuriyyih Gerrard, Randolph Critchlow, Sean Thompson, Alecia Charles, Stephen Asif, Ayanna Waddell, Roger Hinds, Fitzroy Cummings, Sandra Moonsammy, Christine Williams, and Chrystel Williams.

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