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Sangre Grande seen by too few

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On Saturday night I saw one of the best things you’ll see in Trinidad all year. It’s a great pity that only a handful of other people saw it too.


Theatre, unless there’s a big name involved—a Walcott, Salazar or Choo Kong for example—is not a big pull it seems. It was disheartening to see a handful of people amongst rows of empty seats at the Little Carib theatre for Brenda Hughes’ production of Ronald Amoroso’s play Sangre Grande By Two. 


One hopes Hughes is not disheartened by people’s shortsightedness and unwillingness to support the arts. Most, it seems, prefer to save their money for two months of the year so they can splurge it on all-inclusive fetes at $500–$1,000 a pop. The rest of the year, people in the arts work hard to keep the scene alive, even though it’s clearly for the benefit of a small band of committed patrons. 


The $200 ticket for this play would have left the feters spiritually and philosophically richer for their money. 


As we entered we could see the stage brilliantly stylised and detailed like a living room in a Barataria house in 1986, right down to the patterned sofa cushions with a print of what looked like Mille Fleurs, the glass-fronted cabinet and other furnishings. 


It was what the 80s looked like, kitsch and a bit tacky, while at the same time signalling a slight return to the traditionalist aesthetic of the 1950s and away from the gaudiness of 1970s design. 


“How many people are in?” I asked the usher, alarmed as stage time was five minutes away. 


“Just around 30,” she replied. 


Little Carib seats a couple of hundred people.


In the dressing room afterwards, while the small cast celebrated their undeniable achievement, they were also disappointed at the low turnout. Hughes told me the previous weekend had been the same. What a pity, for a six-night run. 


Trinis should have seen this play for a number of reasons. It speaks to issues still affecting society 30 years after it was written. Issues common to many. 


It’s about a family with problems. An unmarried couple approaching middle age, one of whom has a daughter from a previous marriage. A philandering and abusive husband who works all day as a taxi driver and cares most about his car, his masculine reputation and his White Oak rum. A put-upon but loyal and caring wife who can’t envisage an escape. A sensitive, clever son desperate for a scholarship to get him away from the humdrum life he’s been raised in. 


That was the most important and challenging element, one that spoke universally, not just to Trinidadians, about the environment in which children are raised. 


Many people in my life are clever people who came from families that had no concept of nurturing, schooling, encouraging and instilling ambition to produce their utmost, academically and otherwise. 


In the play, the boy’s father (played brilliantly by Errol Roberts) cares about his son’s scholarship only in the sense that he sees it as his retirement plan, not enough to engage the son in his studies or even drive him to his exams in the taxi. 


My mother grew up in Yorkshire in the 1960s with parents whose emphasis was on running a pub, not on education. They never knew she regularly skipped school. That she later obtained her degree at one of England’s finest universities had nothing to do with the parenting she received. 


It would be harsh to blame my grandmother. Growing up during the war, there were weeks on end when schools weren’t even open—a teenager’s paradise. 


The seriousness with which my mother approached the education of us (her children) must have been born of her experience. But too many repeat the cycle. Even if a parent isn’t academically or intellectually gifted, education and a nurturing environment should not be absent. 


In the Guardian office, every afternoon reporters’ kids come in after school, doing homework at desks, having conversations with staff they will remember in years to come, like VS Naipaul whose father Seepersad Naipaul worked at the Guardian and brought his son to work.


Not all parents have the opportunity of giving their kids access to a cerebral environment to learn about life, but all can encourage other types of valuable extracurricular activity.


To parents who aren’t prepared to provide the basic building blocks, I ask: what’s the point having children?


On Friday night I saw the X-Men film at a packed MovieTowne. When the lights went up we were stunned to see a father with three small children. The youngest, maybe five, had fallen asleep and had to be carried out. The film was violent and it was after 11 pm. 


There were no children in the audience at Sangre Grande By Two. 


The perceived value of culture, where mass entertainment wins and fringe fails, still sadly prevails.



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