A modern drama
Arts on Sunday
by Al Creighton
April 27, 2003
As a part of its extensive series of 40th Anniversary activities, the University of Guyana presented a dramatic production to the public. Although it has not been regular or consistent, theatre has been a part of the institution's agenda from the earliest years of its existence. This is not strange, and it is even almost expected, from a place where drama is studied and researched. The production performed at Turkeyen on Friday, April 25, in the George Walcott Lecture Theatre, was Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.
UG's long association with the theatre has, however, been somewhat sporadic. In the late 1960s, among the leading personalities in the University theatre was Slade Hopkinson, one of Guyana's most accomplished playwrights, who also worked with Derek Walcott and later with the Barn Theatre in Jamaica. Around the same time and into the 1970s, Professor Bill Carr was one of the prominent activists as actor and director. Then Stanley Greaves, as Head of Creative Arts, coordinated a number of productions involving staff and students as well as celebrated guests including Dem Two (Ken Corsbie and Marc Matthews), All A We (an expansion of Dem Two with the addition of John Agard, Eddie Hooper, Henry Moottoo and Cammo Williams) and choreographer Malcolm Hall.
In later years this activity was to escalate and become more integrated with University academic courses and outreach. A long series of public performances resulted from classwork with English Department students led by Al Creighton, Creative Arts Drama students tutored by John Rollins and a cross section of University personnel in another series led by Creighton and Deryck Bernard. Then, Jonathan Adams led a workshop of students for a while. In addition, several of the best-known local actors, writers and directors emerged on the national stage from their involvement with theatre on campus. These include Andre Sobryan, Paloma Mohamed, Ronald Hollingsworth, Margaret Kellman Lawrence, Hector Gill, Kim Lucas, Marcia Velloza and Alissa Trotz. Professor Ken Danns started his theatrical career with work in the Sociology class.
Even in the years when there was practically no theatrical productivity on campus, the University kept its link with drama in other ways. UG donated prizes in the annual awards given by NAPA and the TAA; it encouraged the performing arts by its own awards to students each year at Convocation; it houses the Guyana Prize, which includes an Award for Drama; and it has supported on- going research in drama. Tangential to that, has been the fact that even when UG was not the originator of events, several other persons have been students at Turkeyen while they pursued very prolific careers in the theatre off campus.
Now, after a long period without a university production, UG has returned to the public stage with a presentation of Ibsen's A Doll's House. It is important to note that this production emerges from research and the study of drama by students in the English Department in the Faculty of Arts and is an exhibition of the work they did last term. It is significant that this should be the genesis of this revival of campus theatre since that is the kind of activity on which a University is founded - practical output from its academic work.
The final year course in Drama focuses on the 'Modern Stage' as illustrated in the work of a number of dramatists including Ibsen.
In many ways this is one of the outstanding and most definitive plays in modern Drama, just as its author is one of the defining writers. Ibsen was born in Norway and after being apprenticed to an apothecary and beginning medical studies, he found his niche in the theatre, where he worked as manager and writer. A Doll's House is one of his most outstanding plays; it is among the three that first made him famous and for which he is still best known. The other two are Ghosts and Hedda Gabler, but he wrote and performed several others, including two other famous ones, The Wild Duck and Pier Gynt.
He is recognized as 'the father of Modern drama' because of the change he brought about in the theatre through plays dealing realistically with psychological and social problems. These dramas shocked contemporary audiences. "His characters were recognizable people; their problems were familiar to the audience. His plays marked the end of the wildly romantic and artificial melodramas popular in the nineteenth century, and his influence on twentieth century drama is immeasurable."
A Doll's House is a play about change and, like his other social dramas, was controversially received. It reflects a changing society as much as it effected change in the theatre. Ibsen exposed social issues and problems not previously dealt with in this public way. He explores self-discovery and individualism and the way social and institutional forces, hypocrisy and conventional morality impose inhibitions on individuality.
The plays depict "strong women imprisoned by the dictates of society trapped inside a doll's house unable to find their own voices." This is at the centre of A Doll's House, which dramatizes the changing roles and place of women, burning gender issues and social change through the story of Nora Helmer, an over-protected housewife rebelling against her situation in a loveless marriage. So powerful was the impact of her revolution when the play was first staged that when the lead actress read the ending she refused to play the part, which she said was unnatural for a woman.
For these reasons the play is very relevant today as the gender questions that it raises are yet unresolved in the twenty-first century. It is very appropriate as a modern story and as an illustration of modern drama.