According to freelance theatre director and Messiah creative director and co-writer, Geraldine Connor, “This production is a true embodiment of the West Indian culture and Carnival, as it relates to the slave trade and colonialism.
“It is like a multicultural presentation that takes George Fredrick Handel’s oratorio from the concert hall and places it in the middle of a Caribbean street parade.”
The UK-based Connor is also a composer, broadcaster, performer and vocal animator (specialising in mainstream rock and pop, Caribbean Carnival, Caribbean folk and African American gospel, jazz and R&B styles). She is also a past senior teaching fellow at Leeds University and past associate music director at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Messiah is no stranger to audiences in the UK, having had outings in Leeds and Yorkshire, England in 1999 and 2002, respectively. In Trinidad, it was also the signal event to open the redeveloped Queen’s Hall in 2003 and produced again in 2004.
On both occasions in Trinidad, the production received major funding from the government to tune of $7 million each time, with full support from then Culture Minister Joan Yuille-Williams.
Connor, accompanied by Messiah producer Viscount David Lascelles, visited Trinidad during the recent Carifesta for the launch of a book by her father, Edric Connor.
They also admitted that they have been seeking sources to fund part of the cost of production, while they already have some financial commitment from the UK Arts Council and the British-based Peter Moores Foundation.
The UK undertaking is set to cost a whopping one million pounds, with a mixed cast of over 100 professional and amateur performers, 25 of whom are Trinidadians who successfully auditioned and will have the opportunity to be seen by an international audience.
Costumes for next year’s production will be designed by veteran mas maker, Wayne Berkeley and made by Trini-born London resident Clary Salandy, while musical arrangement will be done by Michael Lovelock.
Doing most of the choreography will be done by Carol LaChapelle, who revealed that pre-production will be taking place in Trinidad, and then transferred to the UK from August, when full rehearsal is set to start.
Some of the local talent taking part include well-known personalities such as Alyson Brown, Ella Andall, Sheldon Blackman, Ataklan, Renee Castle and Ann Fridle. Admitting she was very passionate about the upcoming production, LaChapelle took the opportunity to appeal to the public and private business community.
“This is a rare opportunity for the local performers who are being taken to the UK and we sincerely hope that Trinidad and Tobago is on board when we present. We can lose our hold on this play if Government doesn’t step in. There should definitely be a local presence beyond the stage for the event,” she stated.
Echoing LaChappelle’s enthusiasm, Connor described Messiah as “cultural gold.”
“We are confident that TT is going to make a significant statement, both culturally and financially. This is a perfect artistic showcase of the quality of talent we have in this country.”
In keeping with the theme of the bicentennial commemoration, the 2007 production of Carnival Messiah is being staged at Harewood Manor, an English country house estate built in the 18th century during the sugar trade.
The Yorkshire house was built by Lascelles ancestors and contains fine examples of architecture, Chippendale furniture and a wonderful display of paintings by some of England’s best artists, in addition to some excellent examples of Sevres and Chinese porcelain.
The venue was chosen for the production because of its rich historical ties to the sugar and slave trade. The production team plans to erect huge tents in the formal front garden for the 17-day run from September 14-30.
In addition to the play, Connor has also written Carnival Messiah: The Book, a five-part account of the creative links that establish how Europe meets the Caribbean on a carnival stage.
It is illustrated by the work of photographers Trinidadian Jeffery Chock, Keith Pattison, Tim Smith and Ashley Waithe and includes set designs created by Berkeley.
She described it as “one of the most important glossy coffee table type book that any culture lover can purchase.”