Drums And Colours
Knowledge Centre, British Library, London.
Just a stone’s throw from this packed lecture theatre is an exhibition on The Windrush, which is well worth a visit. If the 70th anniversary of ‘mass migration’ from the West Indies is a cultural and political high watermark in modern Britain – if indeed as few as 500 hardy souls is large enough to ‘swamp’ this green and pleasant land, as detractors sniggered – then tonight’s abridged reading of one of the definitive plays by Derek Walcott ingeniously floods our consciousness with the complex history of the Caribbean which washes farther back in time.
Written when the literary giant was just 27, to commemorate the birth of the short-lived West Indian Federation, Drums And Colours gives a vivid sense of the islands in their birth pangs. The original production ran to three hours but this adaptation convincingly evokes the epic character, broad and deep as an ocean, of the peoples of the Caribbean. This not so much creation myth as genesis reality, and the use of four key characters in the narrative that sweeps from transatlantic slavery to rebellion to the emergence of nationhood – Christopher Columbus, Walter Raleigh, Toussaint L’Ouverture and George William Gordon – conveys how the destiny of the region was shaped by those who claimed to be masters and those who refused to be servants. The text is a vast, shimmering sea of conflict.
Director Burt Caesar captures the ebb and flow of the drama very well and a strong international cast headed by Saint Lucian Joseph Marcell, aka Geoffrey The Butler from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Trinidadian Martina Laird and numerous Brits such as Marina Bye, Rez Kempton and Ben Onwukwe, handles the language and stagecraft with aplomb. The seamless integration of calypso performed by multi-instrumentalist James Lascelles is also a masterstroke because the bigger framework of Caribbean folk music, as a political and sociological force as well as a songform, is essential. In fact, the music in the language, with its dizzying variety of solemnity and ribaldry,
Shakespearean perception and Creole ‘picong’, is the lifeblood of Drums And Colours. The work is the sound and sight of a truly unique place in the world.
Kevin Le Gendre