Belly Woman gives birth to strong

By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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JAMAICAN culture is replete with strong stories. Stories which, when given the right treatment, can rival an established Eurocentric fairytale in terms of its potency, characters, and relevance to modern-day society.

Omaall Wright's Belly Woman, mounted by the School of Drama with its final three shows this weekend, seamlessly blends a number of our well known Jamaican tales — Lover's Leap and Three-Finger Jack — into a tight production complete with strong character development, great storylines, and a commendable showing from the cast of student actors. Folk characters such as Policeman, Set Girl, Pitchy Patchy, the titular Belly Woman, Devil, Sailor — all members of court from a Jonkanoo suite — were on show in this production.

At the heart of Belly Woman is the role of women in the slavery resistance movement. Set on a sugar plantation, the production delves into those below-the- surface conversations which took place during that period among the enslaved Africans, and their interactions with their European enslavers. Belly Woman, which opened the day after International Women's Day, also created a stark reminder that the more things change, the more they remain the same. And in the age of the #timesup and #meetoo movements, it is yet another look at the hardships suffered by our women for hundreds of years.

This dialogue is led by a strong set of character led by Belly Woman, played by Joneil Taylor. Her dialogue is painful, yet strong and resilient and so are the qualities she brings to her performance. Her interpretation of the character is matched by that of Kanille Brudy who plays Jack in the Green. However, it is Yanique Bailey in the role of Mother Lungi who completely sinks her teeth in and takes a chunk out of her character. Her strong singing voice only helps to advance her portrayal of this matriarch.

The vocal skills of Chevan Shirley, who plays Pitchy Patchy, is also noteworthy as this tenor voice added a texture and layering to his character.

From the onset, Wright must be commended for the of the poetic device of rhyme as the language base of Belly Woman. While such a device can often come across as corny and predictable in most cases, that never seems to happen in this work; instead, one is left to wonder what will come next to match the previous line. Invariably, the match does not disappoint, and succeeds in telling the story and moving the dialogue ahead. However, some distinction could have been made between the language, dialogue and accents of the enslaved as opposed to that of the enslavers. This would have assisted in cementing that difference, especially due to the fact that the white characters were being portrayed by black student actors.

Lighting master Franklyn “Chappie” St Juste must also be commended for his work on this project. His expertise in this area created strong visuals.

The team at the School of Drama can indeed take a bow for another strong showing.




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