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Yard 2012 - Tickling the Funny Bone of Jamaican History

The Tainos, the "original yardies" look on at the arrival of Columbus

Kingston, Jamaica: Yard 2012, written and directed by Patrick Brown, is a hilarious take on Jamaican history that rests somewhere between celebration and poking fun at the country during its commemoration of its fiftieth year of independence. The riotous journey through Jamaican history, starts with the Tainos and the arrival of Christopher Columbus and ends with an explosively funny sketch on Dancehall culture.

Makeda Solomon is a Taino about to be sacrificedThe musical revue is a combination of sketches and a few more cohesive playlets and provides an interesting mirror through which to view Jamaica. As a mirror, Yard 2012 distorts and exaggerates, but beyond the laughter some intriguing statements are being made. Among these is the importance of both rebellion and deviousness to defining what it means to be Jamaican and that both traits have resulted in things we can celebrate and denigrate.

The production is peppered with famous and infamous Jamaicans including Miss Lou, Bob Marley, (a pregnant) Yendi Phillips, Jodi-Ann Maxwell, Vybz Cartel, Bounti Killer, Nanny of the Maroons, Sir Alexander Bustamante, Renato Adams and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. Some of its characters are not completely new. Christopher Columbus, dubbed Christopher-Cum-Buckus previously appeared in a play by that name while the dancehall take on Romeo and Juliet is a reboot from an earlier installation in the Yard series.

The introduction of the Renato Adams character in the 1938 sketch makes an intriguing indictment of the police force’s role as a colonial authority and that its heavy handed approach to law and order, epitomized by Adams’ reputation to shoot-first-and-avoid-questions-after, is a hold-over of this. According to a series of sketches, under Adams’ watch, neither Bob Marley, Bustamante nor Nanny of the Maroons would have stood a chance.

The play has a decent set but it is only appropriate for a few of the pieces, and so it could have benefited from a more versatile set design. Costume design is also interesting, although some of the execution leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, Yard 2012 benefits from a versatile and talented cast with Glen Campbell, Sharee McDonald-Russell, and Jean Paul Menou being particularly striking. The cast also features Makeda Solomon, Natalee Cole and Courtney Wilson. Through a variety of video vignettes the production also features guest appearances from Oliver Samuels and Clifftwang among others. The Clifftwang vignette is surprisingly hilarious (seeing that the “canna-cross it” jokes had finally died a timely death)

Cambpell remains one of the Jamaica’s most talented comedic actors. He has strong range and the Jambiz productions have increasingly relied on his strength and versatility. Yard 2012 is no different and his impersonations of Renato Adams and Bounti Killer are priceless.

This is an interesting year in Jean Paul Menou’s career. Previously his roles were engaging but hardly distinguishable one from the other. However starting with Louis Marriott’s Bedward, when he took on three impressive small roles, being particularly striking as the Government Chemist, he has shown remarkable range. His performance in Yard 2012 continues this trend.Glen Campbell as Renato Adams

Sharee McDonald-Russell continues to deliver at the fine line between a wonderfully dramatic and comedic performance. Her timing is excellent, and she often adds just the right amount of poignance without diminishing the hilarity of the role. McDonald-Russell’s impersonation of Yendi Phillips is positively inspired.

Makeda Solomon is usually a very solid actress and while her performance was generally commendable, her accent in the earlier pieces often hop-scotched across continents, dampening her effectiveness. However, her impersonation Miss Lou is well-done.

Much of the humour in Yard 2012 comes from imagining some intriguing historical mix-ups as they play fast and loose with history dancing between the past and the present so that Tainos have cell phones and Annie Palmer is seduced by a rent-a-dread/Taino.

Cole, McDonald Russell and Wilson in 'School's a Challenge'The humour builds slowly with the earlier sketches, particularly ‘The Entrepreneurial Awarak’ being among the weaker pieces. Yet, the icing on this Jamaica 50 grater cake, is the culminating sketch ‘School’s a Challenge’ a parody of the popular School’s Challenge Quiz featuring a team comprising DJs. The sketch should come with a surgeon general’s warning regarding the dangers of laughing too hard.

Yard 2012 is currently playing at the Centre Stage Theatre, New Kingston, Jamaica.