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In the Barrack Yard
A review of the Barrack Yard Tent Experience by Mark Lyndersay
When Kurt Allen promises a Barrack Yard experience, he doesn’t kid around. I’ve seen two versions of this period influenced set, the first on the grounds of Napa and the second on the grounds of the old Government Printery on Tragarete Road and the young calypsonian has made smart use of both spaces to replicate the feel of those busy courtyards.
For those of you who may not know what a barrack yard is, it’s a collection of small, normally wooden houses built around shared resources used by occupants with marginal incomes.
Beyond the physical description of such a space, a true barrack yard is a model of shared, familial community, a defiant rebuttal of the tragedy of the commons, as people with little to offer share their capabilities and resources for the common good.
As you walk into the dusty, sparsely greened lot on Tragarete Road, the impact of the space is persuasive. It all feels authentic because, as it turns out, The Barrack Yard Tent Experience (BYTE) was built from the same sensibility that brought diverse families together in T&T.
The materials the installation is made of are completely authentic. Dried palms, rusty galvanize and wooden pallets (sourced from soft drink factories) form the basis for most of the seating and almost all the standing construction except for some tents that provide the cover for the stage and audience area.
Allen and his team have made sensible use of a very large space, easily twice the size of the previous installation. The show opens in a crude gayelle, a semi-circle of metal chairs that functions as a pre-show foyer where members of the Talparo Stick Gayelle across a wide range of ages provide a demonstration of stickfighting.
From there, the audience is invited into the main stage space, a persuasive replica of the central area of a barrack yard, where a group of young actors, most drawn from programmes at the UTT theatrical degree courses, provide a generally pleasant narrative thread linking all the performances.
It’s all a bit tenuous and scrappy, not to mention appearing to be mostly ad- libbed, but the group have some good chemistry and excellent timing. If I had any issue with their performance, it would be to suggest making a ground rule of mentioning the name of the performers they introduce, something that got skipped rather often in the fast staging pace.
Of the group, Shelly Ann Narine, playing Rukmin, emerged as a bit of a show stealer, with a clearly and quickly defined onstage personality. Beyond that, the show is divided between comedy skits and calypso performances of widely varying styles and tastes.
The comedy is very much of the International Comedy Festival variety and not really to my taste. Learie Joseph did a bit as a force ripened 12-year-old hitting on his teacher that veered clumsily into a morality speech.
Cecelia Salazar offered an item as Maria Conchita Consuelo De Jesus, a hot little Venezuelan babe (still fetching in a little red dress) who performed several short numbers as practice for an upcoming audition.
Rhoma Spencer’s Tan Tan Britain lurched about on the stage, often veering away from common sense and good taste for no discernible reason while a team up of George Gonzales and Errol Fabien that didn’t seem particularly promising starting in a neighboring pair of public toilet stalls with significant griping of both kinds, emerged as one of the better-prepared items of the night.
Both Dale Gulston and Derron Ellies offered up excellent pan performances, but it was their incendiary pan shootout on Sugar Bum Bum that defined the evening’s pan segments. Parang queen Alicia Jagassar performed with a stripped down Los Alumnos de San Juan and a strong selection of both freshly minted and experienced calypsonians offered new music and classics.
Performances are tight and focused, and though the show runs long and is widely varied, nobody’s on stage long enough to significantly change the overall tone of the show
Tent leader Kurt Allen slotted his four song set just before the intermission, performing Pot of Gold, Griotism and No Grace Period from his 2016 album, but it was his performance of the unrecorded My Calypso, a song he describes as “his story in calypso,” that’s the confessional, impassioned standout of the evening.
Lord Funny, Trinidad Rio along with Lord Nelson, who closed the show with a rousing quartet of hits, offered perspectives from the vintage era of calypso. Rikki Jai represented for the bridge to soca and the always satisfying Myron B offered both a witty uptempo number and a crowdpleasing extempo segment.
Lord Nelson’s closed the show with All ah we is one family, but despite such claims, this is really the comfortable fraternity of a working gayap. Everyone is putting a hand in this, helping to build something much bigger than they could manage. Food is included in the cost of the $250 ticket, and while it’s not a heaping portion, it’s clearly been made with care.
Rio and Funny aren’t just performers. They put hammer to nails to put the space together. The unsponsored show continues this weekend on February 26, 27 and 28. Joining the cast for this weekend are Earl Brooks as pannist along with Lord Superior, Rembunction and Jungulus.