Storytelling in a rumshop

Set in a traditional Barbadian rum shop, this event offered an eclectic storytelling experience over three nights –– March 30, March 31 and April 1 –– at The Garden Theatre of the Barbados Museum.

The Mouth –– the name of the rum shop –– is run by Nala who, in this incarnation, is the grandson of a rum shop regular who has been entranced from an early age by the magic surrounding this Bajan institution of higher and other learning.

Over the three nights, Nala’s stories and interactions with his “guests” served well to entertain and inform the audience, aka rum shop patrons, as well as to provide the thread that sewed the evenings’ sections into one tapestry.

Night One: Nadia Phillips and Patrick Foster. The two appear as friends of Nala, visiting the bar to share stories with its patrons. I enjoyed the dynamic between these completely opposite performers (male-female; tall-short; young-mature; black-white).

From left, Patrick Foster, Nadia Phillips and Nala on night one of performances.

Their stories were personal tales of their experiences “in foreign” lands and their subsequent return to the Caribbean. Both performers employed humour, engaging the audience with ease and charm.

Nadia of No Filter fame proved that she’s just as funny with the filter as she is without. Her tale was inspirational. Patrick’s piece, featuring the story of the fictional Edward Hastings (whom he readily admitted was himself), was the more poetic of the presentations.

However, both clearly resonated with the audience; if the responsive laughter, applause and shouts of agreement and approval were anything to go by. Interesting to note were the similarities in these two stories of displacement.

The backdrop, created by Russell Watson, seemed to have a life of its own as the images projected on it complemented the performers’ stories and the gentle breeze moved the screen in such a way as to bring those images eerily into dreamlike motion.This, combined, with the words held its own poetic sway.

Michelle Barrow told tales of her ancestors on night two.

Night Two: Michelle Barrow and DJ Simmons. The night’s theme was childhood and focussed on stories for and about children. This was Bajan storytelling in high gear.

Michelle wanders into The Mouth in need of the “facilities”. She is permitted to use the “ladies” room on condition that she shares a story. This she later does, enthralling the audience with tales of her ancestors and of Anansi, demonstrating that she has perfected this oral art form.

I think from now on, I shall address her, with reverence, as Griot.

DJ, as he moved about the stage dramatizing his stories of the little boy, Damian, held the audience in his hand, particularly with the refrain “Bring, brang, brung”. Again, Nala ably held the night together as host. The backdrop projections, giant illustrations of the speakers’ words, left a vivid impression with me and many in the audience.

DJ Simmons captivated the audience with his dramatization of childhood stories.

Night Three: Michelle Hinkson-Cox and Adrian Green. What a treat! In more ways than one. First, that the event ended up being SRO. No mean feat for a theatre event in Barbados, even one staged in a relatively small venue such as the Garden Theatre.

Second. The evening featured the work of Anthony Hinkson, a veteran of literary and theatre arts in Barbados, performed by his daughter. As Nala pointed out during the evening’s proceedings, many actors and actresses (and not just Michelle!) wouldn’t be onstage but for the groundwork laid and sacrifices made by Anthony Hinkson.

Michelle did an able and entertaining job of introducing the book into the rum shop, offering another dynamic upon which the performers could play as they explored the question of learning within the context of “rum shop university”.

With her dramatization of “Janet” (about the hurricane, not Nala, the rum shop keeper’s reputed ‘friend’, I must say here, their banter was very natural) and the very humorous “Ass Race” complete with contemporary references, Michelle drew much laughter.

Her presentation included audience participation – three “volunteers” took to the stage to assist her in performing “Effs”, a poem about a speechifier. Their able attempts drew more mirth. Interesting point: Michelle’s grandfather – Roy Ashby – is the last of our legendary speechifiers.

Adrian Green was, as expected, dynamic and riveting as he spat his rapid-fire spoken word in the form of his signature performance poem, the Mutabaruka inspired This Piece.

Adrian Green was dynamic.

Observation: Though Adrian is an excellent performer with, clearly, a gift for oration, he is not a speechifier. Speechifying is a unique art form quite different from spoken word.

Other observations: I was fascinated by the wide mix in audience demographic over the three nights. The event recognised no class, creed or race. ‘Twas lovely to observe. Evidence of The Gap Theatre bridging gaps. Well done!

The audience at the Garden Theatre was left in stitches.

I couldn’t help thinking this might have been even better in the intimacy of The Gap Theatre’s usual ‘base’, The Cove in St Lawrence Gap, but recognize that more than half the attendees would not, for whatever reasons, have ventured there for the event. So I applaud the producers for bringing the rum shop/bar to the people.

This definitely had a more-ish feel to it. I could see this event running three or four times per year. There are so many stories yet to be told!

Wax! Palax!

Source: Nailah Folami Imoja

One Response to Storytelling in a rumshop

  1. Margaret D. Gill April 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    lovely commentary. Felt I was there from the narrative.

    Congrats to another Griot, Nailah…


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