Popular theatre to mark special occasions continued at the National Cultural Centre on February 14, last with a dramatic production for Valentine’s Day. There has been a long line of variety shows for Mother’s Day, for example, which have been very popular, and the Theatre Guild once had a programme humorously titled, “Love Thou Art …” on Valentine’s Day.
Flavours of Love, produced and directed by Sonia Yarde for Queen of ‘D’ Arts Production, was another of these shows. It followed an old formula of a series of short, funny dramatic pieces and skits in the first half followed by a short play in the second. The agenda is entertainment and the general rule is humour in the pieces presented.
Yarde’s selections were, for the most part, not new. A few of them, written by Ken Danns and Lyndon Jones have appeared before in previous shows, while one, Family Grouse, is an old favourite and versions of it have evoked explosions of laughter from audiences for years. The one-act play was Village Ram written by Danns and performed in Awe Society, one of the earlier productions that used the formula mentioned above.
However, Yarde’s treatment of this formula was very interesting, fresh and imaginative and, despite the formula, it was to a large extent, novel. Flavours of Love, according to the announcement, is to be an annual production for Valentine.
The first element of difference and novelty was the introduction and use of dance. The production started to make an impact in the opening sequence which was a dance ensemble setting the tone for the show, its themes and the “flavour” of the different segments. Throughout, dance was integrated in the structure and flow, functioned effectively, and did not look like items dropped in or superimposed without any integral connection to the drama. The dance belonged and was part of the proceedings.
Choreography was the work of the team of Jonathan Hamer and Esther Hamer, who not only designed, but performed one of the most riveting items in Flavours of Love – a dance titled “Eres Todo”. It was a dance with a Latin flavour but transcended that to be influenced by other types and forms. This pas de deux was a romance. It moved with seamless virtuosity and technique from love story and the romantic to a Gothic quality.
It had a certain fierceness, elements of the grotesque and darkness, threatening to be a dance macabre. These not only characterized the dance but set the tone for that segment of the production sub-titled “Dark Love”.
Esther Hamer’s work was visible in another item of special interest. This was “Love on the Brain” by the National Drama Company (NDC) of which she is a member and the main choreographer. Curiously, the NDC performed a dance item which might have caused the audience to confuse them with another company with the initials NDC, but this was, indeed, the drama company whose proficiency and confidence in the dance have seen them performing dance items in previous programmes.
If the way dance was used was a factor in the achievements of Flavours of Love, so was the way the choreographers got the whole cast to dance with effective competence. This worked very well in the transitions between sequences, as it did in mood setting and in two particular choreographies which fit in with the sub-theme of “Borrowed Love”. These were “Private Dancer” and “You Don’t Own Me”. “Private Dancer” was performed to the Tina Turner song by the choreographer Esther and the women in the cast in order to establish the tone of the segment which included stolen moments to the red-light district and prostitution.
“You Don’t Own Me”, performed by the entire cast, was a little subtler. The question of ownership is an issue in love and relationships which the production dissected. This piece of movement was abstract, suggesting fragility, separation rejection and all kinds of doubts and conflicts. It is not usual that popular shows of this nature would want to get so deep into asking questions about love and human relationships in general.
But apart from dance, the production was enhanced by its attempt to treat love in the sub-categories of “Sunshine”, “Dark” and “Borrowed”. While the first piece “Family Grouse” was ironic, hilarious and full of life, it was not easy to see sunshine love reflected in the pieces, filled as they were with discordance and unresolved conflicts and issues which may be regarded as not quite so funny.
The others were quite impactful as themes and types. Although the audience was always ready to roar with laughter, some of the situations dramatised under dark love were dark indeed. They reflected some thought going into the production, its selection of pieces and its shaping. Here again, there was a tension between light entertainment and tragedy. The audience might have declined the invitation to think.
Similarly, there was delight in the pieces but an undercurrent of serious thought in the various treatments of borrowed love.
Funny as it was, then, Flavours of Love was under the surface no laughing matter as it took the audience on an excursion into re-examining what people generally look at as love, quite a demanding task on Valentine’s Day when the inclination is to skip the light fantastic rather than think.
Both sides of the show worked – the audience got their laughs and themes were examined, all unobtrusively because it was so very well performed and stage-managed. There was astute directing and worthwhile conceptualization by Yarde, supported by effective creative choreography by Esther and Jonathan Hamer, stage management by LaDonna Kissoon and watertight performance by the cast.
The cast did not disappoint and were able to perfect timing and deliver the style of acting suitable to this kind of fast-paced performance. The several roles were well understood and clearly communicated.
Another piece of innovation was contained in the way the cast was introduced in a video in the production’s prologue. It was Yarde who began using this, but it was already two years old by the time this production took to the stage.
The cast included Michael Ignatius, Nelan Benjamin, Troy Parboo, Kevin Kellman, Jerome Abrams, Julian McAlmon, Leon Kissoon, Marissa Morgan-Bonie, Melinda Primo-Solomon, Sophera Waldron, Tikoma Austin, Martina Aleem Ho-Li-Am and Makini Harry-Thompson.
Most of them appeared in the play Village Ram written by Danns several years ago. This rendition of it was lively, spirited and energetic, bringing over the play’s intention to entertain.
It was all played out against a set and décor by members of the NDC – Hamer, Ayanna Waddell, Onix Duncan and Mikel Andrews.