The Caribbean calypso certainly adds something to Playboy of the West Indies – but probably not what you’re expecting. Trinidadian playwright Mustapha Matura’s version of The Playboy of the Western World now, for the first time, has been staged in a musical format. Regrettably, however, the vibrant numbers – when the acoustics serve them well – are probably one of the few entertaining things in this otherwise disinteresting production.
And that’s if you can allow for about three similar songs from Durone Stokes’ Ken (who otherwise delivers a standout performance with velvet vocals) about his love interest Peggy (Gleanne Purcell-Brown). Meanwhile, approximately two numbers are required for the audience to understand Ken’s father really wants to murder his son for almost killing him.
Tragically, these two subplots are the most important developments worth one’s attention in a tiring 2 hours and 45 minutes running time. Even then, they are watered down by irrelevant and ineffective conversations between secondary characters about Ken, the random stranger who finds himself wandering into Peggy’s bar. A group of men come in to drink at regular intervals, Mama Benin (Angela Wynter) speaks her mind despite Peggy’s protestations, the timid Jim (Neil Patterson) utters a few lines before scurrying off again, and two hyperactive girls swoon over Ken at every available opportunity.
All of this does little to move the plot forward, and so it falls to the music to add something more dynamic to the production. The first act of a musical often ends with a punchy closing number, and yet here it concludes with Mama Benin spreading incense around the bar. No dramatic cliffhanger, or any unanswered questions beyond whether Ken and his father Mac (Guy Burgess) will cross paths again.
It’s hopefully not a spoiler to say they do so in the opening song and dance number of act two, moving in close proximity to each other and yet somehow not clocking the other’s presence. An equally frustrating continuity error is the fact that Mac’s nasty head wound hasn’t caused concussion, serious blood loss or anything else which would require serious medical attention. The action the play so desperately requires is only reserved for the last 15 minutes or so, and even then, the resolution is, again, ineffective.
We’re informed that Ken is unlike Jim in that he doesn’t flee conflict, and yet in these final moments he doesn’t fight back at first. It’s hard to engage with a musical which lacks any sense of the profound – even a sprinkling of this is required for the show’s more farcical moments (such as Jim appearing in a boat costume and a bizarre attempt to tie someone up with rope).
Then, in Playboy’s conclusion, it commits the theatrical faux pas of finishing back where we started – in Michael Taylor’s meticulously designed bar – with no major lasting impact after what’s unfolded. “After all that,” says one character, “we finally have peace to drink?”
It’s deeply unfortunate that he isn’t wrong, and one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that fact – namely because Playboy of the West Indies doesn’t tell us how to react, nor does it do enough to encourage a particularly strong response from its audience.
Playboy of the West Indes is now playing at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 2 July.
Captioned, audio described and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted performances take place on 18, 21 and 24 June respectively.
Production Images: Geraint Lewis.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Playboy of the West Indies’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.