Saturday, 11 November 2017

ROYAL TREATMENT: Father HoLung’s regular collaborators bring fresh inspiration to Queen Esther

PERIOD PIECE: The play's era appealed to the instincts of the show's creative team.

THE majesty, visual power and musical magic of productions like King David, Moses and Jesus 2000 came as a result of a committed and lavishly talented creative team working in sync to bring Father HoLung’s vision to life. Putting together these productions year after year consistently challenges the behind-the-scenes team in new and exciting ways. Queen Esther, this season’s avidly anticipated offering, is no exception.

“It’s always challenging because over the years what we try to do is not bring back the same way of doing things. And just looking at the set for this production, the look of the show is very different from anything we’ve ever done before,” explains Greg Thames, the veteran director calling the shots for the umpteenth time.

Thames has been getting great support from creative consultant Alwyn Bully and this season’s Assistant Director Hugh Douse, who is not cast in an on-stage role of the first time in years. He likes the ‘freshness’ of the storyline. “First of all, this is the first heroine that we’ve presented as a title. There is no parting of the Red Sea in this production, but there are miracles of the human heart. It’s a show exploring beauty and virtue in a woman of God and how God can save a nation from corruption,” Douse tells TALLAWAH as rehearsals kick into high gear inside the National Arena, on this Wednesday night.

“It’s a strong storyline for many different reasons, and it’s been a wonderful journey so far,” Douse adds. “I’m excited about the cast, especially the juniors who stepped up to their roles admirably.” 

Thames agrees, betting on this little-celebrated Old Testament plot centred on politics and Persians, family honour and betrayal, cousins Mordecai and Esther, to attract the massive audiences that pack the venue for every HoLung show. “The story of Esther isn’t as well-known as that of Christ or Moses, but it’s one of those stories with a strong female lead when compared to other Biblical stories. And that is something Father wanted to bring to the stage,” the director notes.

Meanwhile, all the creative team members feel the combination of stirring music, choreography, imagery and gorgeous lighting will serve the production well. “The story is very heartfelt, so we’re trying to keep the lighting in a way that reflects that, but it’s a HoLung production so there will be some spectacle and some surprises,” says Nadia Roxburgh, who is filling big shoes in the absence of Robin Baston. “[Queen Esther] is certainly much bigger than anything I’ve ever done, but we have lots of volunteers and excellent support from Main Event, so it’s coming together quicker than we thought.”

Paula Shaw reprises her signature role as the one supplying the movement. “We tried to multilayer the movement. There are no solo pieces in this show, so we have some large group performances to work on,” says the choreographer, who got to work with performers from the Immaculate Dance Troupe, Fellowship Tabernacle, Laud Dance Ministry and the NDTC’s Kevin Moore. “We’re using a lot of the Jamaican folk vernacular and some modern dancehall influences. I like to get into the context of the songs. That’s what guides me.”

Set designer PJ Stewart has worked on at least 20 HoLung productions. The Esther era has been the most inspiring. “I love the period and the setting – Persia. Very elegant, very beautiful,” says the Montego Bay-based Stewart, who got to play around with oriental touches and vibrant colours, while collaborating with the Missionaries of the Poor brothers, who constructed the set pieces under her direction. 

“I did a lot of research on that period, and as you can see I wanted to create a hanging garden, for which we used bamboo, straws and empty bottles that really cost us nothing in terms of material,” she explains. Resourceful as always. “I’m looking forward to seeing the show acted out on my set,” she adds, beaming. “And I hope I the audience finds it fresh and beautiful.”

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