Omeros Comes Home

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - John Robert Lee is a Saint Lu­cian writer. His lat­est pub­li­ca­tion is City Re­mem­brances (Ma­hanaim publi­ca­tions).

OBy John Robert Lee n Tues­day May 3rd and Wed­nes­day May 4th, Omeros came home to Saint Lu­cia. The drama­tised ver­sion of Wal­cott’s ma­jor, 325 page, book-length poem of the same name (1990), was pre­sented by Shake­speare’s Globe The­atre. The venue was the Na­tional Cul­tural Cen­tre. The two-ac­tor mas­ter­piece, and make no mis­take, we watched a mas­ter­piece of po­etry and drama, fea­tured Saint Lu­cia’s Joseph Mar­cell and ac­tress Joan Iyi­ola.

I say Omeros came home since the pow­er­ful de­scrip­tive­lyri­cal-nar­ra­tive po­etry of Sir Derek, set in Gros Islet, with iconic fish­er­men and vil­lagers at the cen­tre of the drama, res­onated in Saint Lu­cia, with Saint Lu­cian au­di­ences, in a way that is prob­a­bly not pos­si­ble in London or New York or other met­ro­pol­i­tan cen­tres. I would love to see this play put on in Gros Islet, in the open air, free of charge, to the pub­lic. It would have a lib­er­at­ing re­cep­tion that would be unique. And I think that Wal­cott would feel a deep sat­is­fac­tion that those of his home peo­ple for whom he writes recog­nised and re­ceived his work and por­trayal of their lives, with a joy and sat­is­fac­tion be­yond real or imag­ined bound­aries of class and ed­u­ca­tion.

In case any­one had for­got­ten, we were re­minded that Sir Derek Wal­cott, who grew up at 17 Chaussee Road, is a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional poet. The Omeros poem/drama we wit­nessed showed a great and pow­er­ful imag­i­na­tion, an al­most un­be­liev­able skill with lan­guage, metaphor, im­age, ideas that com­pare with the great mas­ters Shake­speare, Cer­vantes, Mil­ton and oth­ers of that ilk. Wal­cott is a mod­ern mas­ter (I state the ob­vi­ous). He is a mas­ter of the English lan­guage, of Caribbean/ Saint Lu­cian id­iom; he is a painter and play­wright and the­atre di­rec­tor, so the lines so ex­actly ren­dered by the fine ac­tors (and they, Shake­spearean ac­tors, are very fine ac­tors) carry a power of de­scrip­tion/ nar­ra­tive/lyri­cal beauty/hu­mour/ com­pas­sion that can move one to tears. I was so moved.

Omeros car­ries sto­ries of love; death both nat­u­ral and tragic; heal­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion; frac­tures of his­tory; and racial and his­tor­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tions that are ef­fected through vi­sion and a kind of mag­i­cal re­al­ism. And for those who were not there, these epi­cal nar­ra­tives are shoul­dered by two ex­cel­lent ac­tors, pre­sent­ing/per­form­ing the verse po­etry of No­bel lau­re­ate Wal­cott.

The cen­tral char­ac­ters, pre­sented through role changes of Mar­cell and Iyi­ola, are He­lene, Achille, Hec­tor, Philoctete, Ma Kil­man, an English cou­ple res­i­dent in Saint Lu­cia (the un­named but def­i­nite set­ting), De­nis and Maude, and Seven Seas. The beach on Gros Islet, the No Pain Cafe, bed­rooms, the gom­mier forests are among the set­tings. And, for­give my rep­e­ti­tion, but these are drawn through the verse and the ac­tors’ pre­sen­ta­tion of these through their drama­ti­sa­tion.

In Joseph Mar­cell, Wal­cott has found the per­fect Wal­cot­tian ac­tor. I would like to see him do other Wal­cott cre­ations, e.g Makak in Dream in Mon­key Moun­tain, the devil/planter in Ti Jean, the school­mas­ter in Re­mem­brance and other now-fa­mous Wal­cott cre­ations. As well as do­ing read­ings of Wal­cott’s verse.

The di­rec­tor and adapter Bill Buck­hurst de­serves full credit for his faith­ful, em­pa­thetic, un­der­stand­ing, imag­i­na­tive shap­ing and di­rect­ing of Omeros. The orig­i­nal 325 page mod­ern clas­sic had to be framed in a two-hour drama. Choices had to be made (with the guid­ance of the poet/ play­wright) as to what of the com­pre­hen­sive long poem would re­flect its essence, its cen­tral­ity. And they suc­ceeded very well.

The set was sim­ple, built on the floor in front of the NCC stage. A large straw mat was the per­form­ing space, two Ja­panese-type screens pro­vided en­trance to the per­form­ing area. On the stage, Tayo Ak­in­bode pro­vided a per­cus­sive mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment that un­der­scored, sen­si­tively, the lines and mo­ments. Can­dles in lanterns pro­vided the il­lu­mi­na­tion, sub­tly sup­ported by reg­u­lar the­atre light­ing. The de­signer was Anthony Lam­ble. An at­trac­tive pro­gramme came with the ticket.

Any­thing to carp about? Not re­ally. One may be tempted to wish that the African Joan Iyi­ola could have pro­duced a French Cre­ole/Caribbean ac­cent more strongly, but fine ac­tress that she is, her strong and mov­ing per­for­mance more than com­pen­sated for what is, af­ter all, just an un­der­stand­able de­sire for a com­plete Saint Lu­cian ac­cented sound in such a com­plete Saint Lu­cian po­etic drama.

Con­grat­u­la­tions are in or­der to the or­gan­is­ers of the 25th an­niver­sary of the Saint Lu­cia Jazz and Arts Fes­ti­val 2016, who brought us this great Wal­cot­tian drama. And to the Globe The­atre which has made Saint Lu­cia a reg­u­lar stop in its tours hav­ing al­ready vis­ited with King Lear (Joseph Mar­cell in the lead) and Ham­let.

My heart’s de­sire is that many more Saint Lu­cians, and many more of those por­trayed in Wal­cott’s great love and heal­ing nar­ra­tive (with all the pain in­volved), could have ex­pe­ri­enced it.

Joseph Mar­cel in Omeros staged at the Na­tional Cul­tural Cen­tre as part of the 2016 Saint Lu­cia Jazz & Arts Fes­ti­val.

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