Multilayered, riveting, epic and dramatic are the best words to describe Winston Farrell’s latest play, ‘The House of Landship.’ As Barbados struggles to stay afloat economically, the once gem of the Caribbean sea is now going through rough seas that force a nation to question who we are, what is our historical and cultural legacy and where do we now go from here? How can we recapture the true essence of the symbolic maypole and bring our people to unity to overcome the challenges of leadership, cultural relevance, loss of tradition, religion, politics, management and republicanism.
These leitmotifs give us a glimpse into the multiple dimensions and layers of Farrell’s truly epic drama so richly embodied in Captain Amelda Best, superbly played by Amanda Cumberbatch. If Lamming’s village depicted ‘In the Castle of My Skin,’ was to use the 20th century’s metaphor for Barbados’ coming of age, then Farrell has recaptured a similar metaphor in the House of Landship to make us look at ourselves in the mirror and ask the real hard pertinent questions. Are we ready for female leadership? Have we overcome our deepest darkest secrets of domestic abuse and sexuality? Are our men living up to their expected roles in the society?
Neil Waithe and Shana Hinds who convincingly play the roles of Amelda’s children, Rodney and Rose, represent the young brigade resisting the pleas of their elders to hold firm to tradition and carry on the baton. Though there were elements of obvious predictability and clichéd drama, that Barbadian sense of dry in-your-face humor broke those moments with the timeliness and wit of seasoned actors Wendell Thomas, the Quarter Master, Nurse Vida played superbly by Angela ‘Lottie’ Weithers and Skins played ably by Kenneth ‘Jack’ Lewis, our typical rum-drinking character who intersperses wisdoms with off-the-cuff truths once his inhibitions are lost to rum.
Ultimately, Farrell has outdone himself and showed his maturity as a playwright and historical folk dramatist who celebrates the “culture of the poor” like no other among his contemporaries. The ultimate bereavement of Commander Elijah Best is not to be seen as tragic, but rather as a rite of passage and a life to be celebrated like that of Moses Wood who founded the movement in 1837. If we can stretch our imaginations to this period and see how our ancestors, immediately coming out of a slave experience, were able to organize themselves in landship docks to support each other financially, emotionally and socially, then we will appreciate and respect Farrell’s call for celebration. Well done John Hunte, well done!
The collaboration with the Cavite Chorale, beautiful dance transitions using routines from the Landship, together with Leandro Soto’s set design all contributed to a carefully crafted multimedia production worthy and deserving of its standing ovation.
The House of Landship can easily be called, the House of Barbados for it’s who we are. It’s about us!
The House of Landship is now at Carifesta IX, the Caribbean Festival of Arts and Culture being held in Suriname.
This review was written by Ian Walcott, contributor to The Burton Wire on Caribbean and Latin American Affairs.