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Jonkunnu Jamboree - Energetic and Entertaining Pantomime

Aston Cooke's Jonkunnu Jamboree

Aston Cooke’s Jonkunnu Jamboree, recently staged by the University Players under the direction of Michael Holgate, is an entertaining melee of dance and music. And yet it could be so much more. So the biggest problem with Aston Cooke’s Jonkunnu Jamboree is that it is a pantomime. Of course, that’s a lot like saying: the biggest problem with a square is all its squareness.

Jonkunnu Jamboree hints at its potential with its opening song which makes wonderful promises of an allegorical exploration of class and race using the Jonkunnu as a trope for life as a masquerade, a grand theatrical performance where we each adopt roles.

Joyce (Suzanne Beadle) and Precious (Julene Robinson) two 'informal settlers' of Jonkunnu Beach Village“Which role you going play?” the characters ask, in what we assume to be their everyday selves. And although they answer, it seems the question is also being posed to the audience, making us complicit in this masking and unmasking. We too are a part of the performance. We all adopt roles as set girls and pitchy patchy and belly woman.

But then the play descends into regular pantomime-ness. Jonkunnu Jamboree has all the markings of the Jamaican pantomime. There is the contest between the older generation and the current generation, culture - especially folk culture is put on a pedestal as the saviour of the country, there is the young educated man who will somehow help to lead the embattled community step into the future. Honica Brown as the 'spirited' Adasa in Jonkunnu Jamboree

The play, using a reasonably formulaic plot, surrounds a contest between two fictional communities, which results in a clash of cultures and class. The citizens of the fishing community Jonkunnu Beach Village are “legitimate informal settlers” who are squatting on a beachfront property through permission of an absentee landowner, Ms. Terrylonge (Nadean Rawlins). Their livelihood and lifestyle are about to be challenged when members of the Quadrille Heights attempt to take over the land and evict them.

However, the play benefits frGizzada (Shanique Brown) and Staggerback (Melbourne Douglas) were delightful in Jonkunnu Jamboreeom interesting characters and had strong cast who generally deliver dynamic, energetic performances. Julene Robinson, in the role of Precious, continues on a winning performance streak and proves a steady force around which much of the action takes place. Honica Brown (Adasa) also gave a noteworthy performance as did Brian Johnson even though his hair and wardrobe were often distracting in their inexplicable strangeness.

And yet, it was the minor characters who were absolutely delightful. Staggerback (Melbourne Douglas) Gizzada (Shanique Brown), threatened to take over the play with their antics. The duo of Shadow (Desmond Dennis) and Corporal Clappers (Fabian Thomas) were another gem of the production. Together the two seemed to have been pulled from slapstick heaven creating a wonderful physical contrast between Thomas’ girth and Dennis’s absence thereof.
Villagers confront Shadow (Desmond Dennis) and Corporal Clappers (Fabian Thomas)
However, because the play depended on formula for its resolution, there were many things it couldn’t touch. Although the characters were entertaining, they had no complexity and were forced to be either good or evil. This left several disturbingly frayed edges. So issues like the treatment of Corporal Clappers are dismissed. Clappers is clearly a traitor to his class and for that he deserves to be on the side of villainy and gets his comeuppance. However, Mrs. Terrylonge treats him like a ‘yard bwoi’ despite his status, putting him in his social place as the carrier of her bags when he attempts to assert authority over her.

On the other hand, Jonkunnu Jamboree’s use of choreography is strong and should be replicated. The play utilizes an intriguing blend of contemporary and folk dance moves which adds to its dynamism and also embodies the point of Jonkunnu Jamboree to have a blend of the two elements of Jamaican culture. The production also benefits from a good use of music.

Unfortunately, the other technical aspects, particularly costume and set design, were nowhere as strong. Indeed, to associate design with the set used is to ask too much of that word.

Jonkunnu Jamboree was staged at the Philip Sherlock Centre, University of the West Indies Mona, October 12 - 20, 2013.