REVIEW: NTACTT’S Junction Village – “So Trinidadian”

POV: It’s minutes to 6pm on Sunday 28th March, the second and final night that the National Theatre Arts Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NTACTT) will be performing ‘Junction Village’ in south. The Naparima Bowl box office is like the domestic flights counter at Piarco Airport on Easter weekend. There’s a queue of potential patrons standing by, anxiously hoping to get a seat in the sold out venue. One of the ushers can be heard sympathizing, “I hope you get through. It’s a really really great show”. No lies were told whatsoever.

It is my philosophy that a good performance should do one thing, and that is to produce memorable moments that live on in the minds of the viewers, long after the curtains close. NTACTT certainly ticked that box, bringing life to the work of Douglas Archibald, one of Trinidad’s lesser known playwrights. In their first live play since COVID-19 knocked the theatre world into limbo, the National Theatre Arts Company reminded us of their importance as an institution designed to cultivate top quality performances by some of the best talent that Trinidad & Tobago has to offer.

Junction Village is your archetypical 1950s Caribbean village drama (much like Alwyn Bully’s ‘Good Morning Miss Millie’ or Ronald Amoroso’s ‘The Master of Carnival’) with a single drawing room setting, where all the news is brought in through the front door, by word of the villagers’ mouths. In a pre-show interview, Arnold ‘Pinny’ Goindhan describes the play as “so Trinidadian”, and there’s truly no better way to put it. Junction Village is a macabre sort of comedy, and an extremely Trinidadian one at that. If the saying is true that ‘laugh and cry does live in the same house’, then their drawing room would be that of sisters Eva and Cordelia Gumbo, where all the action is set. Neighbours and friends visit the home anticipating the wake to be held for the beloved Granny who is on the verge of death in the adjoining bedroom. In the space of that one evening, the characters tumble into commotion and conversation of all sorts. At no point are you sure what’s going to happen next, but you know it’s going to be hilarious.

“At no point are you sure what’s going to happen next, but you know it’s going to be hilarious” | Photo Credit: Saul Ramlal

The aesthetics of this production were a real feast for the eyes. Set dressing was done with an incredible amount of detail that made it true to life – giving serious 1950s Caribbean female Christian household vibes, from the hutch full of wares to the picture of the Sacred Heart over the door. Props go to (no pun intended) Narad Mahabir for the design and construction, supported by Khadine Hansrajsingh, Akeem Dookie, Basil Dickson & Marissa Sookraj. I was not surprised to find out that David Williams was the master behind the stage makeup that transformed the fresh-faced cast into tanties, uncles and ordinary country folk. Paired with Natalie Phillips’ costume design, the characters all looked like something straight out of a portrait from the 1950s. Whoever was responsible for the ashy knees on Corporal Pelai deserves an award.

I could go on at length about the phenomenal performance of the actors, and one would hope to find nothing less from NTACTT. My personal favourite was Syntyche Bishop’s portrayal of Miss Lizzie, an elderly woman with a charming sense of humour and histrionic tendencies. Somewhere out there in the world, there must be somebody’s granny who speaks and moves exactly like this version of Lizzie. Bishop embodied every imaginable aspect of the character so well that I was almost convinced that she had extracted her teeth for the performance. Altogether the geriatric bunch in Junction Village complement each other like crix and cheese. Bobo is the quintessential outspoken alcoholic grandpa played by Arnold Goindhan, and Miss Clara, the bible-toting tanty impeccably characterised by Breige Wilson. When the three of them meet onstage, you can almost hear their bones creaking together in symphony. Though her appearance is momentary, Patti-Anne Ali’s performance as Eva Gumbo pales in comparison to the rest of the elders. Her entrance is grand, but her deportment is too sprightly for the famished and feeble old woman that her character is set to be.

Syntyche Bishop (left) and Arnold Goindhan (right) in ‘Junction Village’ (2021) at Naparima Bowl | Photo Credit: Saul Ramlal

The younger set of characters are a beautiful mess too. Time and time again, it appears that Nickolai Salcedo can do no wrong. His performance is choreographic from start to finish. The character’s progression and unravelling becomes palpable, making the audience to feel the weight of his secret and complexities of Paul Courtenay’s character arc, all the while screaming with laughter. Then there’s Kearn Samuel with his usual swagger, giving something unusually likeable to the arrogant Mr Joe.

The chemistry between the two men in their dealings with the Gumbo sisters is so great that it makes one cringe.  Chanel Glasgow and Shivonne Churche-Isaacs are a consistent force throughout, holding down the household in the throes of all the ruction and keeping a touch of girlishness to their romances.

Shivonne Churche-Isaacs (left) and Chanel Glasgow (right) in ‘Junction Village’ (2021) at Naparima Bowl | Photo Credit: Saul Ramlal

The ‘small roles’ in Junction Village shine bright enough to make Stanislavski proud. Nicole Carter puts her all into the mannerisms of the adolescent Susie, just as Ruby Parris’ commanding presence and voice makes us wish that we could see more of her character, Rosa. Marvin Dowridge’s appearance as Corporal Pelai is a side-splitting and unforgettable one for all the right reasons, and Nicholas Subero’s stuttering Sam is simply brilliant. It’s just about impossible not to make a caricature of Hi Ling, the miserly village ‘chinee man’ who’s a recurring character in the oral and literary traditions of the old time Trini countryside. Jarod Baptiste’s version is hilarious while truly being indicative of the Trinidadianness of the play, as our culture has always been quite comfortable with making fun of the East Asian community. The representation itself is unavoidably problematic, particularly given the recent outcry of Asian people locally and abroad surrounding hate crimes in the USA. This is one of those instances where we see how texts don’t/can’t evolve themselves into political correctness.

‘Junction Village’ (2021) at Naparima Bowl | Photo Credit: Saul Ramlal

The one moment of the show that didn’t quite compute for me was the finale in the form of a bongo dance that followed the curtain call (likely because it would not have fit anywhere else in the play). It seemed arbitrary, and added nothing to the show but a good demonstration.

On a somewhat political note: considering the 50% seating capacity regulations in local performance venues, one would have hoped that there were more showings of Junction Village. A high quality, family friendly production like this one demands to be seen.

I’d even go so far as to say that some integration between the Ministries of Education and Culture/Arts/Tourism would have seen the need to make accommodations for Theatre Arts and Literature students at the very least. Viewing and reviewing live productions is a part of our national and regional curriculum that has not changed in response to COVID regulations. Run de show and let de people dem laugh. Let de chirren dem learn!

Until better can be done with the mathsing of the maths, don’t get left outside without a ticket! Junction Village runs this Easter Weekend at Queen’s Hall, April 3rd and 4th.

Tickets are $50 for adults and children under 17 are free once accompanied.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Harmony Farrell

Harmony is a poet, actor, dancer, stage singer, researcher, educator, content creator…and the list goes on! In 2019 she graduated from the Guildford School of Acting/University of Surrey with a first class honours degree in Theatre & Performance with Creative Writing, where she grew an interest in writing about the arts. Her passion for performing emerged somewhere between being involved as an ensemble member & soloist for groups in musical theatre, parang, choral singing, dance (ballet, tap and contemporary), spoken word, comedy videos and again, the list can go on. Harmony’s writing is situated between her scholarly focus and her practitioner’s insight.

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