by Tanya Batson-Savage
Keiran King’s Taboo is disturbing. But then, since it’s deliberately so, that is a good thing. If for nothing else (therefore assuming you are willing to ignore the generally stellar production qualities of the play), you ought to admire King’s continuing foray into the human condition, with the Jamaican middle class as his launching pad.
Taboo is King’s third outing as playwright (The Last Call and Mr. and Mrs Blacke) and his skills as a playwright have improved significantly. Like the humans he explores, the play is flawed but its aspirations for perfection are admirable. Taboo is an interesting interpersonal drama and with the exception of some elements that stick out awkwardly, it generally benefits from witty dialogue as King comes to rest more easily with his own style which it still bears the marks of his influences.
Taboo, co-produced by King and Raisha Lovindeer, is far more about character than plot. It’s the night of William’s 30th birthday, an intensely unhappy would-be writer who spends his time whining and complaining about the ills of society (interestingly, his rants echo those in the Producers Notes in the programme). To celebrate his achievement in age, though nothing else in life, William’s doting sister Gina and her husband invite William and his wife Sabrena over for dinner. While Sabrena and William metaphorically claw at each other with barbed words, Gina and John appear to be a reasonably happy couple. The four seem as ‘white bread’ as their names sound, however, as the evening evolves, the relationships devolve and their real selves are revealed.
The play is ably directed by Eugene Williams and features an ensemble cast of four, Lisa Williams (Sabrena), Keiran King (William), Yendi Phillipps (Sabrena) and Rodney Campbell (John). Alas the cast has more to offer in looks than in talent. While there are many commendable elements to the play, it is far from perfect and its cast makes these imperfections more glaring. While each gives a fair enough performance, none of them are good enough to bring the work to its maximum dramatic impact (although for some the baring of the bosoms may be more than enough drama).
Taboo has the hallmark stylish and well-executed set design of Backstory (formerly Eight Seven Six) producers of Last Call and Mr and Mrs Blacke. However, rather than the full realism that marked those earlier pieces, the set design of Taboo is more symbolic. The set is divided into three areas, each marked by a circle, one red, one yellow and the other blue, and within it, each prop item maintains the colour coding. Each circle then acts as a kind of spotlight for the action.
Though the marketing strategy plays on it for all its worth, Taboo isn’t a mere dalliance with the risqué or a display of gratuitous gropings. Instead, the production aims to disquiet as the characters are literally stripped down to reveal, not their nakedness, but their inner demons, thereby stripping away the veneer of the seemingly happy family.
The play makes no prescriptions as to what is wrong or right, but simply presents this ‘taboo’ and invites you to think on it (and it’s better if you don’t know what ‘it’ is before you get there). In this topic, King has poked his pen in a sore point that few like to look at, and by not taking a moral position, it leaves the audience to feel complicit. It is yet to be seen whether the fruits of this dare will ripen or controversy will overtake it.
Taboo is currently playing at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI, Mona. It is a one act play and runs without intermission.