dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Comedy in the sun-soaked Caribbean
Premiering at Birmingham Rep, this new musical of Playboy of the West Indies is packed full of colour, life and humour.
Mustapha Matura's comedy takes us to Trinidad into a village rum bar where life is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a stranger. Dumping his pack on the floor, Ken announces that he has just killed his father and needs a place to hide. But Ken's arrival shakes up the village in a way none of the locals could have expected.
Playboy of the West Indies
Hugely successful when it was premiered in 1984, Playboy of the West Indies, which was based on J M Synge's controversial Playboy of the Western World, is now given a new chapter with a musical version directed by Clement Ishmael, Nicolas Kent and Dominique Le Gendre. Sadly Matura died three years ago, too early to see his play take on this new musical guise but he did work with the team on the production.
And the result is a blend of bittersweet comedy with complete zaniness as Ken becomes the life of the party and beloved by all until another stranger appears through the door with a different story.
Durone Stokes is surprisingly likeable bearing in mind he is a machete-wielding killer. He is gently grateful to be offered a place of refuge as the new bottle boy in the bar and quickly wins the hearts of all – particularly Peggy whose father Mikey is the owner. Initially distrustful, Peggy, played by Gleanne Purcell-Brown, is the one who suggests the job for Ken and rapidly loses her heart to the handsome stranger.
Peggy is indeed the peg on which much of this story hinges. When we first meet her, she is betrothed to marry Stanley, a man chosen by her father. Played by Derek Elroy, Stanley is outwardly the perfect husband, courteous and prosperous he appears to offer her a bright future but she does not love him. And when she meets Ken, it is not just her heart which is opened, she also realises she has choices she had never believed and she is determined to find her own way in life.
The story is brought alive by the music created by Ishmael and Le Gendre. Based in Trinidadian calypso, it's a toe-tapping score packed with songs that could stand alone from the musical. But some of the lyrics and indeed some of the dialogue in the show is hard to hear and understand largely due to the decision to opt for heavily accented speech and some use of Creole words. While there is no doubt this adds authenticity to the production, it can sometimes be hard to follow.
Michael Taylor's set takes us into the rum bar where much of the action either takes place, is talked about or is viewed through the windows. Instead of plenty of physical scene changes, as each character emerges through the door, bringing their larger-than-life characters and tales, they take the story forward, ensuring it has its own rapid rhythm.
Playboy of the West Indies – The Musical has a charm, music and characters which will capture your heart and take you to a sun-soaked Caribbean island where it feels like anything could happen.
Playboy of the West Indies – The Musical forms part of Birmingham 2022 Festival and runs until July 2. See www.birmingham-rep.co.uk for more information and tickets.