Saturday, 14 May 2016

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK: Karen Harriott recalls + A kid brother steps up + Barbara Blake-Hannah is back!

ROLE CALL: Karen Harriott tells the best stories. On a supercool Friday afternoon, inside her cozy day office, off Constant Sprint Road, the May cover girl is taking us down memory lane, reminiscing on a few of the stage performances she considers among her best work to date – the roles that established her as reputable actress and made her a star. That list includes her turn as the ball-busting defense attorney in David Heron’s Against His Will. “That’s the play for which I did the most research since I’ve been an actress,” asserts Harriott, who went to great lengths to ensure authenticity – even spending time in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), working on real murder and rape cases, and attending court dressed up like a real no-nonsense litigator and fooling everybody. That’s how Karen became friends with the likes of Marlene Malahoo Forte and Paula Llewellyn. But, best of all, the experience fully armed her to give the performance of a lifetime, one that wowed critics and audiences everywhere. “We went to Canada, New York and England to do the show, and everytime the show ended somebody would come up to me, offering me a scholarship to go to law school,” Harriott remembers. “One critic in the UK said it was the best performance he had seen in years. And to get a review like that was very, very encouraging.” Locally, the notoriously picky Mervyn Morris wasn’t that convinced, describing Harriott’s turn in the courtroom drama (“Can a woman rape a man?”) as “a tinsel performance.” The criticism stung, but Harriott says she’s put that moment behind her, advancing from strength to strength. In the time since, she’s gone on to build an enviable body of work (spanning stage and TV) that puts her in the pantheon of Jamaica’s greatest living actresses.

RISING SON: Sheldon Shepherd’s baby brother Rashiem has been getting his feet wet in the world of theatre production, seemingly intent on making his mark while keeping pace with his famous sibling, leader of the acclaimed Nomaddz crew. This weekend sees the premiere of Rashiem’s new play Undercover Craziness (his third effort, he tells TALLAWAH) that mixes slapstick comedy with a slice of drama and social commentary, holding up a mirror to the status quo in Jamaica. A mild-mannered twentysomething, who sports stylish dreadlocks, Rashiem Shepherd strikes me as a promising and ambitious, if a tad unassuming, young man who we will be hearing a lot from in the future. Undercover Craziness, playing in the newly opened “second theatre” at Haining Road’s Phoenix Theatre, features a cast of energetic youngsters, led by Kadeem Wilson and Everaldo Creary.

BORN TO TEACH: In case you were wondering why you haven’t seen or heard from Barbara Blake-Hannah in what feels like ages, the good lady has been busy doing what she does best: sharing the knowledge. On Friday night, we ran into her talented son Makonnen (who has certainly packed on the pounds since we saw him last) at Redbones (Richie Spice and Dre Island were in concert), and he told us that Blake-Hannah recently returned home from lecturing at universities in North America. As you all know, Blake-Hannah, the workhorse behind the now-defunct Reggae Film Festival, is an authority on all things Rastafarian, a bestselling author, newspaper columnist and a retired BBC journalist, one of the first Blacks to do it big in the UK. “She was away for a while, but she’s back home now getting some rest,” said Makonnen, who also dabbles in film and music. A woman of surprises and a longtime friend of TALLAWAH, we can’t wait to see what Barbara Blake-Hannah will do next.






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