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Anancy Mines For Gold
The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of plays for children. Included in this batch is the Anancy Chaptaz series written and directed by Damion Radcliffe which he co-produces with the Independent Actors Movement. The Anancy Chaptaz series is a welcome addition to the slate of productions and makes commendable use of Jamaican folklore wrapped up in engaging tales.
The second installment in the Anancy Chaptaz series ‘Gold Rush’, improves upon the first, because Gold Rush has a more cohesive storyline, featuring a tale story that a child can more easily get her cotton-candy coated hands around, even if some of the threads of the story are a little frayed at the edges. Gold Rush develop its own myth while weaving together bits of the story of the Golden Table as well as elements of the Anancy starvation tales and the Dry Ribba tale, and it all comes together in a bit of a hectic mash-up. But in truth, plot is not Gold Rush’s strongest element, and the knots in the story are forgivable.
Instead, Gold Rush works because Radcliffe takes Jamaican folk culture and builds credible spectacle and drama fueled by music and humour. As with Anancy Chaptaz: Di Beginning, Gold Rush benefits from likable and memorable characters and is bouyed by catchy music.
Sabrina McDonald reprises the role of Tella, the story’s narrator. This time around, McDonald is a little more relaxed in the role which allows the character to evolve and be better able at drawing you in. McDonald is an accomplished actress and delivers well. Unfortunately, Radcliffe is a little overdependent on McDonald’s skill and uses Tella to fill in narrative gaps that would have strengthened the play had he chosen to show these plot points rather than have her tell them, even though she tells them well.
Interestingly, Anancy has not been the strongest character in either installation. In Gold Rush, the problem was not the performance, as Stephen Palmer played a likable Anancy. However, Anancy wasn’t really relevant to the story but seemed more like a tacked-on device, which was only necessary because Radcliffe was committed to telling an Anancy story. Had Radcliffe simply focused on telling the story of King Jankro and Ribba Mumma, he would have had a stronger more cohesive plot.
So Anancy, able to be either villain or hero, is neither in this story. Instead, it is King Jankro who shines. Carl Samuels delivers with his interpretation of King Jankro, who oozes the kind of despicableness that makes for a great villain. Coming on the heels of his engaging performance in Lynn Notage’s Ruined it speaks well of Samuels’ dramatic range.
Along with Anancy and Tella, the characters Royal and Bighead (a pair of rats) also return for the second installment and its an excellent decision. Royal and Bighead are funny and silly and totally endearing in their clueless commitment to being evil. Played by Melissa Halliman and Najali Ellis, Royal and Bighead are responsible for much of the humour in the production.
Anancy Chaptaz Gold Rush also benefits from good use of sound effects and its integration of video technology to enhance the drama is commendable. However, while costuming was imaginatively conceptualized it was not well constructed giving a more amateur flavour to the production.
At the end of the day, however, Gold Rush is another successful installation in the Anancy Chaptaz series, and maybe next time Anancy will even get to be the starbwoi of the story.