The Little Theatre Movement (LTM) is warmed up for the big and small challenges of dancehall life as they near the end of the last rehearsal week for this year’s national pantomime, which opens on Boxing Day at the Little Theatre.
Dapper Dan the Anansi Man, the 76th LTM pantomime, is about a dancer-promoter-businessman who many think is a trickster, but he is really only looking for a way to make money from the entertainment scene. Almost any one of the characters could be the pantomime’s bullseye, but there is something about Dapper Dan that makes a spectator question who he is. Dapper Dan is played by Ray Jarrett, who has been with the LTM pantomime for approximately 14 years.
When the pantomime started in Jamaica it had strong British influences, with most of the scripts related to stock characters of nursery rhymes and fairy tales unique to the UK theatre scene. But Dapper Dan appears to be a real-life person the writer, Barbara Gloudon, may have come across at some point in her life.
“Dapper was used to say well-dressed and Dan was just a name that was common or known by everyone,” chairman of LTM’s board and veteran pantomime writer Gloudon explained.
It’s hard to believe that Barbara Gloudon, who is in her 80s, could have possibly gained hands-on experience at local street dances prior to completing the script and choosing the right persons for the cast. Graphic artist and costume mistress Anya Gloudon-Nelson said to The Gleaner, “we will never tell who Dapper Dan is”, but he is an “amalgamation of more than one character”.
“As the dance promoter, he is up front and in the middle of it, like a selector who not only plays music but produces it and plans events around it,” Gloudon-Nelson continued. Her mother is reluctant to reveal the inspiration behind the entire story of Dapper Dan.
Online searches showed Dapper Dan was the name given to Harlem couturier Daniel Day, known for his reuse of luxury brand textiles to create stylish, tailored outfits in his boutique, which was forced to close in the ’90s. It was also a title given to a 1920s era gangster.
For locals and followers of dancehall, the character Dapper Dan would probably remind them of dancehall legend Bogle, as Jarrett enters the stage in stylish outfits with big gold chains and freestyles dance moves.
“The younger generation is constantly talking about dancehall, but there are different tastes. One of the things we look on for inspiration is where the audience comes from,” Gloudon said.
The inaugural pantomime in 1941 was Jack and the Beanstalk, then 60 years later, there was Jack and the Macca Tree. The productions always presents an element of good conquering evil.
“The simplest way of defining it is that a pantomime is like a morality tale, so there’s always good out in the end; nobody going dead or get killed. We gradually changed it into our Jamaicans stories and context, but what would make it different is the music we use to pass along or continue the plot,” said Gloudon-Nelson.
The first set of dress rehearsals are done, but the team is still finalising the set design. Gloudon-Nelson has, over the years, accepted the challenge of recycling and reusing set backdrops, as well as clothing, to create new pieces for completely different productions.