CLASS ACTS: Forbes (right), with Terri Salmon, in For My Daughter at the Pantry Playhouse.
“It’s a heck of a game, but it’s worth it,” says Leonie Forbes, alluding to her long life in Jamaican theatre as we sit for a quick talk on a balmy evening recently in New Kingston. She can say that again. In an industry that prizes youth and the next big thing, the iconic and much-laurelled stage and screen actress proves that there is no substitute for experience and a God-given gift that just keeps on giving. “I want people to always remember that Jamaican theatre produces good work, and I hope to continue going for as long I can and help those who choose it as a profession,” says Forbes, whose 77th birthday will be celebrated later this year.
On the subject of aging, Miss Forbes is famously candid, having no qualms about admitting that she’s seen it all and done the rest. “I’m glad to still be here at this point,” she concedes. “I’m alive, still learning what makes life beautiful, and I’m enjoying that.”
Miss Lee and I are chatting at the Pantry Playhouse, where she is currently earning standing ovations as the headliner of For My Daughter, an intensely captivating new family drama by David Tulloch that co-stars fellow acting pros Terri Salmon and Rosie Murray. “It’s terrifying, but it’s also a nice feeling,” Forbes admits sweetly of returning to the bright lights of the stage, sounding like a neophyte when in fact a quick tally of her career highlights will reveal a long list of acclaimed and award-winning roles (‘night, Mother; A Raisin In The Sun; Old Story Time, to name only a few) that reads like a book of world records.
But Leonie Forbes is beyond modest when reflecting on her illustrious acting career and continued success. She’d much rather give props to our new generation of actors and playwright-producers who continue to make blood out of stone. She’s particularly fond of Tulloch, and For My Daughter marks their first creative partnership as actress and writer-director. “I am touched and inspired by a lot of his work, especially this play,” she says. “What we’re getting are chunks of real life. I admire his courage and his passion, and I wish him every success.”
For his part, Tulloch remains star-struck. “As a director, it has been my career’s honour to have the legendary Leonie Forbes share the stage [with the other actors],” he comments in his directorial reflection printed in the show’s playbill.
Though she is immensely excited about what the future holds for the local theatre community, Forbes remains cautiously optimistic. “It’s certainly growing, but like everything else it has its peaks and valleys,” she observes. “It’s not only our actors who continue to shine. We also have very good writers, and that’s encouraging. We need more theatre spaces though and financial backing. And that’s one of the reasons I’m still involved in theatre; to see how I can help.”
So what does Miss Forbes get up to when she’s not entertaining an audience? “Nurse the joints. Watch the pressure. Get as much rest as I can.”