The ‘block’ has been a controversial topic in Barbadian society for many years. It is often seen as just a liming spot for persons who either don’t have or want gainful employment to congregate and often times get involved in some form of mischief
However, one cannot ignore the contributions to society that ‘block relationships’ have made. It is not unusual for persons in some form of power in this country to reference friends or loved ones whom they interacted with in their upcoming years who were frequent flyers of the block.
It’s against this background that Gap Theater presents the play – ‘On the Block’, written by the esteemed Glenville Lovell, directed by Nala and performed at the Daphne Joseph Hackett Theatre.
While the production is a collaboration with the students of the Fine Arts Division of the Barbados Community College in which their performances will be graded for their Associate Degree, the play aims to tackle serious topics that plague the block culture in Barbados. Topics such as crime and violence, sex and illegal drug use play heavy parts in the lives of the characters in this theatre piece.
On the Block is a coming-of-age story that follows the lives of a group of youngsters working to harness the insecurities which challenge their development into adulthood as their lives and choices intertwine. Despite the chaos around them, they use their wits, their intelligence and each other to navigate the treacherous waters that is the world around them, while forging deeper bonds amongst themselves.
The play opens with Black Eye (Renesha Lawrence), Tek Nine (Mikhail Prescod), Skins (Serge Phillips) and Trip (Kiara Smith) having a moment of reflection about the life of their late friend, Goose (Brandon Gaskin). The characters are having a somewhat difficult time coping with the sudden loss of their mentor. Skins and Black were adamant they should continue the legacy bestowed upon them by Goose. In the past, Goose helped the duo mould and refine their talent in poetry; a talent they were both astute at. Tek, though supportive of Black and Skins pursuing their talent, was more of a hustler who only saw the need to make quick money, no matter how legal, or in often cases illegal, the endeavour might be. Trip was in a league of her own, for lack of a better term. She was not as talented as Black or Skins and she certainly was not a borderline criminal like Tek; she was more of an individual who lived life one day at a time taking chances only when absolutely necessary.
It is during these earlier moments of conversation between the main cast that the main plotline of the play reveals itself; who killed Goose and, more importantly, why?
An early suspect in the crime is Boyland (Jonathan Howard), a notorious gangster among the group of friends and who, at the time of the murder, disappeared almost immediately from public view. It is the investigation into the murder that spikes the interest of Bill (Junior Weatherhead) and former sergeant now driver, Edwards, who is played by well-known ‘bajan’ comedian/actor Simon Alleyne. Bill, who is a columnist for one of the local newspapers, initially feigns interest in simply investigating the murder of Goose for his own personal satisfaction. After all, it was revealed later in the play that writing such opinionated articles is what he was known for. On the other hand, Edwards saw the opportunity of solving the murder as his ticket to the life of luxury that he thought he deserved. As the play progressed, it was obvious that Bill and Edwards’ personal agendas were ironically linked and thus conflict ensued. It is the progression of this conflict that impacted heavily on the aforementioned main cast members who changed their lives for the better and unfortunately, also the worse in the end.
Overall, the cast did a splendid job conveying their characters ambitions and often the downfalls they were carrying throughout the course of the piece. Black Eye and Skin especially had to deliver several poetic pieces during the play. These pieces were filled with deep emotions, which had a raw yet honest feel to them. Though the play was serious in nature and dealt with dark themes that plague modern day society, it was still filled with scattered instances of humour, usually at the expense of Tek Nine. The main cast often willingly made fun of her lack of intellect and her random outbursts of violence though scary for some, were hilarious for others.
In my opinion, the students did a stellar job in their performances. Special mention must be made of Simon Alleyne who, as usual, fully enveloped the mindset of his character and disappeared into the role.
Glenville Lovell is no stranger to the Barbadian theatre scene; after all he comes from a background of dance and theatre dating back to his early school days. Before the play began on the gala’s opening night last Thursday, he received the Earl Warner Trust Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the co-founder of the trust, Karen Ford Warner, a reward of which he was very deserving.
The play was a well written piece which I felt covered the intricacies of what ‘Bajans’ call block life. The society around the block is never simply or easily understood, and the play expertly conveyed this to the audience. Nala, the director of the production, utilised the layout of the stage and the ability of the actors to great effect. The piece flowed well and, all in all, the audience enjoyed it immensely.
It is important to note that the main cast referenced in this article will switch for this week’s shows from May 3rd through to the 5th.