Twenty and proud: the Theatre Company takes a bow! Arts On Sunday
Stabroek News
December 2, 2001

The recent production, Twenty, at the Cultural Centre commemorated another very important achievement for the Theatre Company while making a significant statement about Guyanese theatre. It was the twentieth anniversary of the company, celebrating its 125th production and honouring those who made contributions to its work and development. But the occasion was also a documentation of the Theatre Company's own considerable contribution to theatre in this country.

Twenty was a compact and very efficient production whose finely-tuned performance reflected the kind of professional management that has become the hallmark of stage and production manager, Gem Madhoo. The team that presented this show has become quite accomplished in a form of theatre that evolved with the growth of the company into a very settled tradition.

This team of actors, directed by Ron Robin-son, carried off this style of theatre like a well-rehearsed routine, showing off what they have learnt after many years of working together on the Link Show. But it was not always like this. The TTC, like the nation's drama, has come to this through a history of change, trials that failed, difficult times and different trends.

While for a good part of those 20 years, the company shared responsibility for some of the trends driven by popular tastes and the commercial factor in local theatre, the balance sheet shows credit and achievement. Some of the gains are specific to the TTC, while others represent important contributions to the theatre at a national level.

It has a remarkable record of prolificity and consistency including the production of a number of large musicals and noteworthy major plays. It exposed its audience to the works of major world and Caribbean dramatists, hosted visiting productions and players, initiated overseas tours and developed the Link Show into the country's most popular theatre tradition, setting local box office records in the process.

At the national level, it deserves credit for its pioneering role in ushering in commercial theatre in Guyana. On November 5, 1981, it was established as the first professional theatre company native to Guyana. At that time there was quite a controversy about the professional theatre versus the strong tradition of amateurism insisted upon by the Theatre Guild under John Rollins and Lennox Foster. Local theatre was, however, experiencing change and theatre as a commercial activity was becoming a serious alternative.

New playwrights in Linden, Harold Bascom and Grace Chapman, as well as former Theatre Guild members Leon Saul and Ian Valz were venturing out as individuals into commercial production. With the strength that the Theatre Company gave to this movement, actors, directors and other practitioners were able to earn an income from theatre. Soon after, Desmond Clarke, a director, producer and playwright, was able to group together a team from this emerging corps of actors to form the NAPA, the second professional theatre company to be formed in the country. It can be said in 2001, that it is the Theatre Company that has so far continued the legacy of the Theatre Guild, out of which it grew, in the continuity of theatre in Guyana.

It has made a major contribution to effecting change in the local theatre and although none of the commercial groups, except NAPA at one time, has had formally registered members, TTC now has built a corps of actors of its own, who are still free agents, but who have worked consistently for many years on the Link Show team. The company formally honoured them during its twentieth anniversary celebrations. Included among them, were Cicely Forbes, John Phillips and Nazimul Hussain who represent another significant factor. While it merged out of the Guild, TTC also benefited from the foundations established by another important amateur institution the 1980s - the GUYSUCO Head Office Drama Group. Head of GUYSUCO, Harold Davis, who had a keen interest in the theatre, founded this unit.

His company had also nurtured the Sugar Estates drama festival, which faded out in the late 1970s. Davis' group, for whom McDonald Dash once served as artistic director, had an annual major production out of which GUYSUCO Awards were given and a number of these winners went on to join the commercial theatre in the wider community, including the Theatre Company. Forbes, Phillips and Hussain are currently the most prominent products of Davis' GUYSUCO Group.

They are among the team, which worked with TTC in developing its most important contribution to the shape, form and tradition in local theatre, viz the Link Show. This product was a direct borrowing from The Brink, a satirical revue performed by the Theatre Guild in earlier years, inherited, adapted and reshaped by Robinson after he left to found TTC. It went through various trials and some failures before it eventually settled down to what it is today: a workable form in which the Theatre Company team is very proficient. Not only is it Guyana's most popular theatrical tradition, but it is also a formal institution in both local and Caribbean theatre.

As an annual satirical revue, it is one of the very few of these to have survived throughout the region. Only the Jamaica Pantomime and Barbados' Laff It Off exist today as strong annual satires. Each is different, so the Link is a significant formal development in Guyanese theatre.

This form gave shape to the production Twenty, which was a collection of excerpts from past TTC productions made up mainly of selections from previous Links.

These actors are well schooled in the type, which includes lampoon, take-off and high farce. The cast was almost the same as have been scripting and performing the annual shows. Richard Narine and Margaret Lawrence were missing, but former Theatre Guild actors, Robinson, Desire Edghill-Adams and Yvonne Welch, former GUYSUCO Award winners Forbes, Phillips and Hussain, as well as Henry Rodney, Rajan Tiwari and Omkar Sharma formed the mainstay of the team with a full understanding of the type of theatre and its styles. The production was well-paced with appropriate stage use and a necessarily very sparse set. Caricature types were effectively drawn, timing was perfected and selection of detail effective in an extremely sharp production.

Like the company throughout its existence, Twenty benefited from the work of Madhoo who has become the most professional and proficient technical theatre practitioner in Guyana. She has knowledge of the stage and the most valuable understanding and store of experience in theatre and production management of them all. She is a director and secretary to the company whose other directors are Robinson, probably the most decorated actor-director in the country, and Ian McDonald, award-winning poet, novelist and playwright.

The company now produces fewer plays each year than it used to, but has held its strong position during the current decline in local theatre. It has played a critical role so far, but no doubt, still has a crucial part to play in the present struggle for survival and the future development of theatre in Guyana, whatever direction that might take.