Told By An Idiot, The Evocation of Papa Mas

Review in Issue 18-3 | Autumn 2006

The Evocation of Papa Mas raises issues around the difference between creating a carnival and creating a piece of theatre. The traditional Trinidadian carnival evoked here has a stock of characters which performers make their own – as in the commedia dell’arte tradition and this is played upon to great effect. The show’s writer/director, John Wright, doesn’t shy away from the racial and cultural stereotyping that is intrinsic to ‘old time’ carnival. Thus we meet versions of Jab Jab black devils, Fancy Indians, a hoop-skirted Dame Lorraine lady, and Midnight Robber, the bringer of death and destruction. Utilising the very ample skills of carnival costume designer Clary Salandy and set designer Dick Bird, Told By An Idiot brings this world to life wonderfully with a contemporary twist. Swirling satin hooped skirts, baby birds with rubber glove coxcombs, giant sculptural carnival mask-heads, skewed city skylines in vibrant colours, crazy cops with false noses, dancing devils with ludicrously large phalluses, shape-shifting coffins like a magician’s cabinet…

This is, in essence, a piece of music theatre, and the onstage band and singing performers do the piece justice. So, visually and musically, taking the images, sounds and characters of the carnival form and exploring that playfully, it is a great success. But some of the physical acting is below par, and more vitally the dancing is lacking. Obviously, carnival-standard samba isn’t a necessity in an evocation, but the choreography should at least capture the spirit of the dance. Part of the problem is the incorporation of local community participants who seem under-rehearsed, which is often a problem when integrating different people at each performance.

So Papa Mas, on this viewing, was not yet fully on form, but (with some reworking) has the potential to be a great piece.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 2006

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-3
p. 24