Review of Chris De Riggs’ play, The Fire to Dance
by Susan Mains
I always enjoy theatre in Grenada from our local playwrights and actors, but rarely do I come away with such a feeling of complete satisfaction. Chris De Riggs has composed his Magnum Opus.
Performed at the Grenada Trade Centre to a full and appreciative crowd, the sound was good, the protocol was good, the actors were good, but the writing was superb.
De Riggs carefully pulled us into a web of intrigue, built around the character of Sophia Clark. We meet her as a schoolgirl at St Joseph’s convent (Rose Bhagwan), paralleled by her adult counterpart, Dale Bhola. The back and forth between them was poignant and sweet. Perhaps the singular moment where their identities merged was when they were dancing together. We could believe it was the younger and older person, in two different lifetimes.
The time period of the 1960s was suggested in the carefully chosen costumes, the minimal set with historic pictures of Queen Elizabeth II, Che Guevara, and others, the music, the dance steps and more than that, the dialogue of the day.
Grenada’s history is revealed from a personal life journey of Sophia as her family wants her to be a lawyer, but all she wants to do is dance. Her young love of Darlington Richardson (the young played by Nathaniel Stafford, and the adult, Pianhki Toussaint) is a recurring theme in her life, and it finds her in university in Canada. Toussaint seems to have been made for the role of the self-made, self-assured revolutionary. His delivery was confident and believable.
Veteran actor Robert Whyte as the father of Sophia Clark, has once again proven that time and practice add to the ability of an actor to become the character. He convincingly proved a well-known cliche of the fathers of that era, wanting his daughter to be a professional — not a dance creative. Sadly, although the time period has passed, the trope remains the same.
Other characters faithfully convinced us that they actually were who they were playing: Deborah Gilchrist as Mother Superior of the convent, Sophia’s mother (Sonia Cadet) and the postman (Halim Griffith). The university friend, Ngozi (Lisa Grappy James), was a familiar relief, and the moments of comedy were not overdone but added a humanity to the story that was undeniable.
As the events unfolded, we start to recognise a storyline that is all too familiar to those of us who lived through the 60s and 70s. The Canada segment revealed the Grenada connection to the riots at St George Williams University in Montreal. We heard the familiar chants of “forward ever, backward never,” and the truth was dropped in our lap that Sophia and Darlington would return to Grenada and become instrumental in the Grenada Revolution of 1979.
The times of planning the insurrection hit familiar historical notes and rang true. The surprise coup was enacted, and a new era for Grenada was thrust upon them. Sophia and Darlington could dance their victory. It was a slow romantic dance.
Remembering the exhilarating emotions of that time in 1979, I had preferred a warriors’ victory dance, perhaps with Ngozi leading the whole cast. Such feelings of promise and hope had ensued. But knowing our history as well as Chris De Riggs does, perhaps the foreshadowing of what was to come directed the more quiet approach.
De Riggs faithfully thanked all those who worked to ensure the success of the production: the stage manager (Allan Bierzynski), the sound crew (Ryan DeRiggs), the set maker (Suelin Low Chew Tung) and the sponsors. The Honourable David Andrews, Minister for Education, was in attendance, and he agreed that every secondary and tertiary student in Grenada should see this play, as it teaches our history in a very appealing way.
The Fire to Dance will play at the Grenada Trade Centre next weekend. See Facebook Heritage Theatre Grenada for islandwide ticket outlets.