Review: Chigger Foot Boys At Tara Theatre

New play about young Jamaicans in World War One falls a little flat

More emphasis on the man who was to become Jamaica's National hero would have improved this imaginative  piece of new writing, says reviewer Penny Flood.

This is a play about the first world war looked at from a different angle. It's set in Kingston, Jamaica in 1914, the time when Britain's colonialism was at its height, when maps of the world had lots of countries, including Jamaica, coloured pink to show they were all part of the great British colonial family, and the world is spinning into war.

Four men are sheltering from a tropical storm in Medora's bar. There's Linton (Stanley J. Browne), a soldier, strutting and masculine but with a soft underbelly; Mortie (Ike Bennett), a country boy on his first trip to the city clutching his hunting gun; Medora (Suzette Llewellyn), sassy, sexy bar owner, more vulnerable than she lets on. They're all black, and later they are joined by the Manley brothers Norman (Jonathan Chambers) and Roy (John Leader). 

And so they drink and play dominoes as the storm crashes over them, the conversation ranges from subject to subject but the threat of war is never far away. It never crosses anyone's mind that they won't join up to fight.

Their fate is revealed in a series of flash forwards, we know which year we're in because there's a big book at the back of the stage and the pages back and forth, always coming back to 1914 and the bar where, with no idea of what lies ahead, they carry on with their noisy dominoes and rum while the rain hammers down on the roof.

However, in spite of its strong cast and slick direction along with the writer's meticulous research, it falls strangely flat. The glimpses of the future just show the men as cold, frightened, hurt, confused and so on, the dialogue's fine, but it doesn't go anywhere. Overall it lacks a  strong narrative, there's no tension and no expectation making it a rather unsatisfactory experience. A more rewarding experience  could have been achieved  with a bit of a shift of emphasis.

Norman Manley was a real person, after graduating from Oxford he went back to Jamaica to become the country's first Premier and a big player in the fight for independence and universal suffrage. He was also father to Michael Manley who was to become the country's fourth prime minister. 

Sadly none of this is explored. The war would have affected so much of Norman's  thinking, such as when he's told that to become an officer he has to be an honorary white man (it seems unbelievable now, but that really happened); as he sees the waste of life, including that of his brother and the unfairness of colonialism. Shifting the emphasis to Norman and his growth into national hero would have made a stronger and more interesting story, explained in one more flash forward.

Chigger Foot Boys plays at the Tara Theatre in Earlsfield until March 11. Running Time: 120 minutes | Suitable for ages 14+. Book tickets here.

March 3, 2017