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Meetings by Mustapha Matura at Orange Tree Theatre

If a kingly crown were to be shared between the greatest political playwrights of the 20th Century, American playwright Arthur Miller would have to concede to sharing his with Trinidad’s Mustapha Matura. Except Matura’s use of raucous humour and metaphor to dramatise political rot in post-colonial Trinidad may hit harder than Miller’s use of hopelessness to depict the corroding influence of capitalism in the United States.

Martina Laird in Meetings - credit Marc Brenner.
Martina Laird in Meetings – credit Marc Brenner.

In Matura’s 1981 three-character play, Meetings, his characters evoke spontaneous laughter from an audience intrigued with their use of colloquial Trinidadian humour (Voice and Accent Coach Aundrea Fudge) until its narrative descends into disturbing truths of human suffering, political abuse and greed.

We meet Jean (Martina Laird) and Hugh (Kevin N Golding) in their onyx-black, polished-steel designer kitchen (Olivia Jamieson), complete with mod cons and stylish cookware. The only thing missing is food. Jean doesn’t cook and, in an era where men are supposed ignorant of culinary skills, it’s not expected that Hugh prepare his own dinner.

Jean is a deal maker with a finger on the pulse of emerging markets. She’s spearheading a new concept with an American-backed company, Lunar cigarettes, made from health-enhancing tobacco and nutrient-enriched cigarette paper – and we believe Jean believes this to be true.

Hugh is as successful as she, but with a stomach that gurgles and groans for a home-cooked meal. One day he meets an old Trinidadian street peddler, Mari, and tastes her saltfish and coo-coo, foods he remembers from his cherished childhood. But who is this Mari who takes Hugh to the site of an 1837 slave rebellion against the British, and tells him how British soldiers poisoned the drinking water so the slaves would die?

She sends her teen-age granddaughter Elsa (Bethan Mary-James), to cook for Hugh and Jean, foods Jean finds distasteful but Hugh relishes with gusto.

In dramatic terms, when an outsider enters a seemingly tranquil home, slip lines occur, which reach a seismic shift in the second half of the play.

Every aspect of Meetings benefits from director Kalungi Ssebandeke’s ingenuity; from its superb actors to its hallucinatory use of lighting (Ali Hunter); to its slow motion and rapid movement scenes (Diane Alison-Mitchell); and the sound of warrior steel drums (Jose Puello) reminiscent of Trinidad’s turbulent colonial history.

Meetings earns its status as one of the best plays to see in 2023.

5 Star Rating

Review by Loretta Monaco

Suited, booted, and stuffed with American burgers and fries, Hugh walks out of a meeting and buys a mango on the street. To the bemusement of his high-flying wife Jean, Hugh becomes obsessed with the foods of his Trinidadian childhood and hires a cook, Elsa, to indulge his nostalgic passion. Mustapha Matura’s razor-sharp comedy is about identity, belonging and the cost of progress.

Mustapha Matura’s
MEETINGS
Produced in association with the JMK Trust
Directed by Kalungi Ssebandeke; designed by Olivia Jameson; lighting by Ali Hunter; sound designed by Jose Puello
Cast: Kevin N Golding (Hugh), Bethan Mary-James (Elsa), and Martina Laird (Jean)

14 October – 11 November 2023
https://orangetreetheatre.co.uk/

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