Thursday, 28 December 2017

ISLAND SPICE: Jamaica Sweeter explores familiar territory but delivers clever sketches and cool vibes

BACK A YARD: Thomas (left), Ellington and Salmon sharing a scene from the musical revue.

Jamaica Sweeter (Probemaster Entertainment)
Director: David Tulloch
Cast: Terri Salmon, Luke Ellington, Sabrina Thomas, Derrick Clarke, Samantha Brevett and Ricky Rowe
Venue: Phoenix Theatre, New Kingston

“WHY do doctors call what they do a practice?” “Why is abbreviation such a long word?” So many questions, so little time. That’s Ricky Rowe (playing a street beggar who eventually cleans up nice) musing and waxing philosophical in one of the second-half sketches in Jamaica Sweeter, a tuneful and hilarious follow-up to the award-winning original that graced the stage some four years ago.

This go-round, the sketches and scenarios presented are just as side-splittingly funny. But we expected the number of brand new sketches in the mix to outweigh the remounts to make the overall production a boldly original triumph that stands on its own. Yes, the nostalgia is good but nothing beats freshness and originality.

But try telling that to the dozens of audience members who turned out on opening night. By all appearances, Jamaica Sweeter delivered the laugh riot they were expecting. For TALLAWAH, meanwhile, it was a fun trip down memory lane, seeing favourite bits like Terri Salmon slipping into the role of a Chinese lie detector and getting a kick out of fingering the ‘storytellers’ in Luke Ellington’s family.

As Sheila, a frustrated wife investigating her husband Frank’s (Ellington) whereabouts from the previous night, Salmon is on her A-game as she works the phone. These and other sketches leave the audience in stitches. 

Then there’s Sabrina Thomas, spot-on as the concerned grandma having a heart-to-heart with her boy-crazy teenaged grand-daughter, played with wild charm by Samantha Brevett. Derrick Clarke, too, had his moment as the feisty Rastafarian cook selling ital ‘sip’ (not soup), while Rowe elicited big laughs as a newly married country bumpkin calling his father (Ellington) late on honeymoon night for ‘advice’.

Thankfully, for the most part, the actors all bring strong stage presence, good comedic timing and convincing transformations to their respective parts in the skits. 

As a seasoned Jamaican playwright who has a firm grasp of the comedic and dramatic forms, Tulloch proves that he knows how to turn serious sinting into much-welcomed comic relief. From spicing up a marriage to the socio-economic status quo to skin bleaching, Santa Claus, teen pregnancy and alcoholism, the show’s exploration of issues (not to mention the catchy, intermittent musical numbers) hardly misses a beat. 

Last time, the set design was nothing to speak of, but this time around, the creative team earns kudos for a vibrantly eye-catching backdrop with green and yellow tones depicting some irie island scenery.  

In the end, Jamaica Sweeter’s blend of old favourites and new ideas, combined with food for thought and island spice, will satisfy a wide cross-section of tastes. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

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