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Review: Earl of Mo'Bay

 

By Shola Adenekan

 

There are two types of audiences in theatre land: The open-minded and the gullible.

 

Theatre goers in Nottingham either do not get out much or are easily duped. Or how else can one explain the raucous laughter that follows languid cheesy one-liners from Earl of Mo'Bay?

 

Leah Chillery from Selston in Nottinghamshire has always dreamed of being a writer and, after being invited onto the 2005 Momentum Young Writers' festival, her career has well and truly taken off.

 

Since then Ms Chillery been invited to the National Theatre, got herself a literary agent and been commissioned to write more plays.

 

Making it as a playwright is no easy task but with perseverance, a large slice of luck and the right connections you can achieve great things.

 

The plot is this: British girls Gillian and Dinah arrive in Montego Bay, Jamaica for a last minute break before winter but a week soon becomes a lifetime, as the local gigolo’s queue up for the tourists’ affections but it is beach boys Earl and Dique who manage to win them over.

Is Earl Spencer a gigolo? Will Dique toughen up and get his girl? What is Gillian's problem and will the mozzies ever leave off her behind? When will Dinah start thinking about anyone but herself? Can long distance relationships work and can friendships survive the heat of a low budget Mo'Bay hotel room?

 

 Leah Chillery

Leah Chillery: One of Britain's most promising playwrights

 

Smart people will say that the stage is the exact opposite of the television; that it is not a pernicious medium, responsible for social dysfunction and alienation.

 

Wrong!

 

I'll rather be watching  Big Brother or Celebrity Love Island on a Saturday night than attempt suicide by watching a slap-stick rendition of  a couple of poor street-wise Jamaican lads getting it on with two working class English girls.

 

The set is right, the audience will do anything for a laugh and the actors are decent enough. 

 

The plot, however, is a relentlessly simple series of clichés and usual Black men versus white women stereotypes.

 

When Earl Spencer boasted about Black men’s sexual prowess and asked brooding Gillian if she’s ever had a black man before one cannot but wince.

 

However, Earl of Mo'Bay is not a complete disaster. The direction by Esther Richardson is superb and makes the most of the material. Celia Strainge’s set evokes the spirit of a Caribbean beach resort and enhances the interaction between the audience and the actors in the rather tiny but cosy Nottingham University’s Lakeside theatre. There are lots of milling and mixing. Pop-psychology meets cheesy love music, all in a good natured way.

 

Chris Jack’s Earl Spencer character is funny and quick-witted and Johann Myers’s Gillian character is believable. The two leading actors provide some of the few brilliant moments of the night.

 

Gillian and Dinah are the bored girls you see behind the till at your local Tesco who save their meagre wages towards a yearly holiday in some exotic locations, seeking an escape from the dreariness that is Blighty. 

 

The dialogues maybe disjointed but Ms Chillery’s anecdotes are funny and timely. And Dinah proves that love can take place when a girl keeps her wits about her

 

Ms Chillery is one of Black Britain’s and UK's most promising theatre talent, so why has she written a not so superb play?

 

It is because she has failed to provide a meaningful contribution to theatre-goers' experience, which is what differentiates plays from the banality of reality TV and makes audiences fork out a tenner to spend two hours at a theatre rather than downing pints of lager at their local. 

 

The play is billed as an insight into sexual tourism in Jamaica but this could have been Magaluf or Ayia Napa. We do not learn anything about Jamaican men except that they have big dicks which they are obsessed about and are more brawny than brainy. 

 

When Dinah told the laid-back Dique she doesn't date Black men because her own Jamaican father ran away, one has an image of a playwright grasping at a straw.

 

Ms Chillery is of mixed Jamaican and English parentage and she has visited the beautiful island before. She could have bestowed greater depth to her Jamaican characters as she did to Dinah and Gillian.

 

In a season that has witnessed not so great portrayals of Black men on TV (Shoot the Messenger) and in theatre-land (Township Stories and Sugar Mummies) the recurring theme is that Black men are useless even when being written about by their own kind.

 

Earl of Mo’Bay

Written by Leah Chillery

Directed by Esther Richardson

Designed  by Celia Strainge

Cast includes Johann Myers & Chris Jack

 

Earl of Mo’Bay ran from August 22 to August 26 at Lakeside Arts Centre at the University of Nottingham.

 

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

Comments:

 

Dear Shola Adenekan,

  

I have never once felt compelled to write a response towards a review but reading your account of 'Earl of Mobay' angered me so much that I felt I must.

 

Firstly, Nottingham audiences are neither gullible or easily duped. Your sense of superiority and suggestion that you have a much more sophisticated sense of humour than your theatre going counterparts leaves me only to feel that 'one cannot but wince'.

  

Secondly, you have completely missed the point of the play. The play is not billed as an 'insight into sexual tourism in Jamaica', and nor was it ever intended to be.

 

It follows the journey of four individuals, their colour and background are

completely incidental to the plot. It is a story. Two separate love stories.

 

Plain and simple. No issues I'm afraid. This is not an episode of Hollyoaks.

  

I can only assume that you have never in fact visited Jamaica yourself, otherwise I would never have had to sit through listening to such an ill informed review.

 

Leah's dialogue is witty, thought provoking and most importantly, real. I have visited Jamaica. Some of the men there really do say those things, they behave in that way, this was not some fantastical creation, some cheap gag to give the audiences a giggle.

  

It is your own preconceived ideas that have drawn you to the ridiculous conclusion that this show is an anyway slap stick or cliche. 

 

'Earl' is not supposed to be a representation of the way the author feels about black men, or men at all for that matter. He is a cleverly created, multifaceted character and was never intended to make any kind of social statement. He is just Earl. Earl of Mobay.

 

So what if he mentions his penis! He mentions it because that's the lewd kind of character he is. He likes his penis and thinks it's big and so he sees no problem in discussing it.

 

That he is a black man is of no consequence whatsoever. The fact that you chose to highlight it says more about your own cultural generalisations than it does about the writers. You might have noticed Dique make no such crude references throughout the  whole play.

  

To write that the writer was clutching at straws with regards Dinah's issues with black men is perhaps one of the things that angered me most of all.

 

How dare you suggest that those sentiments are in any way weak. How dare you? You are neither qualified or insightful enough to comment on how mixed race women might feel dealing with an estranged black father.

  

It is a sad reflection of your judgement that the only reason you have lumped this play in with programmes such as 'shoot The Messenger', is because the writer is black, and there are black people in it.

 

Earl of Mobay was never making a statement or judgement. It was always just telling a story.

 

The sooner Black writers are actually allowed the room to just do that without having to weigh down their text with heavy issue based stories the better.

 

Perhaps for the time being, it would be safer for you to stick with the likes of 'Big Brother' and Love Island'. You'd be doing us all a favour.

 

Regards,

 

Danielle Henry.

 

Dear Shola,

 

I read your review of the Earl of  Mo’bay and the comment from Danielle Henry. I went to see the play at the Lakeside Theatre and I came away much disappointed; I found the stereotype of  Jamaica as an island for broke British women to come and find love tragic as well as laughable. The notion that Jamaican men have nothing better to do than sit around and wait for these women to land so they can bestow sexual favours on them is a farce.

 

I think the men portrayed in the play show quite clearly the playwright’s warped and egoistical mindset of what a black man is. There are a few Jamaican males who will sell their services to gullible women but only to feed themselves and their families and to put a roof over their head - it's called survival. There are a large number of Jamaican males who do not find British women attractive in any shape or form

 

The review of the play is an accurate portrayal and as for Danielle, please let her know that Jamaican men born in Jamaica do not refer to their members as penis, which is an English term.

 

Peace,

 

Suzette Smith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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