Governor Eyre goes on trial in new dramatization
For many Jamaicans, in general, and the residents of St Thomas in particular, the Morant Bay Rebellion, and subsequently, the hanging of Jamaicans are forever etched in their memory. And with that memory, the names of William Gordon and Paul Bogle come readily to mind. On the other hand, the name Edward Eyre would surely encounter a stumble before recognition. But for members of the National Commission on Reparations (NCR) Jamaica, this is not the case.
"It is time to try Eyre for ordering the murder of Jamaicans at Morant Bay!" they declared in a press release.
And so, one in their series of high-profile campaign activities on the importance of reparations will be used to put the late governor on trial. This trial will take the form of a dramatisation to be staged on Sunday, October 25, 2015.
The play will also provide a "small part" in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of one of the most serious uprisings to have taken place in the British Empire. Since last year, a committee in St Thomas has been making plans for the celebrations.
However, on Thursday, in the comfort of the office of Professor Verene Shepherd, chairperson of the NCR, which is located on the University of the West Indies campus, The Gleaner met with Bert Samuels and Michael Holgate, also members of the NCR, for information on the production as well as on the justification for reparations.
Samuels, who wrote the script titled The Trial of Governor Eyre, is an attorney-at-law. He shared his rather unorthodox approach to writing the script. "I got a short-hand writer, and in my conference room, with my lectern, I stood up and said, 'Two months ago, when the people are seeking justice for two hours ...' and I went through the entire trial."
In essence, "Bert went into the courtroom and stood up in the court and played every single role." Holgate said. The one-man show lasted two hours, but more important, the script was born.
"I had prepared myself mentally," Samuels continued "All I had, at the time, were two letters written by Gordon - one to his wife and one complaining about Eyre's management of the country three to four months before the march."
The story for the docudrama is centred mainly on a trial and the two letters, among other researched materials, will become the base for the prosecutor's argument. "This is the motif why Eyre sent for him [Gordon] in St Andrew, sent him up to JDF camp, and then brought him to St Thomas. Eyre had him up because he had complained about him. And if you read that letter by William Gordon, he predicted the Morant Bay Rebellion. He said, 'Things are going to go haywire if nothing is done about this man's mismanagement of the country'." Samuels added.
The setting of the story is mainly at the Morant Bay Courthouse. The newly constructed courthouse will be the stage for the two-hour theatre of the avant-garde. Holgate is the director. He thinks "it is a beautiful script by Bert".
The director acknowledged that, like all newly written plays, the script is still a work in progress. Thus, the exact size of the cast has not been settled, but they are looking at 25 members, led by experienced actor Bob Kerr.
The characters are the jury, the judge, the lawyers, and the witness, and Holgate said the initial plan was to cast persons from the legal community to play some of the roles, but he eventually gave into theatre sensibility. And, so far, it has paid off. Samuels was impressed by what he heard at the first reading.
"I do not know if Michael believes me, but when the reading happened three or four weeks ago, I was impressed. And I am looking forward to seeing it with bated breath."
The trial of Eyre is not an actual historical event. "It is what should have happened 150 years ago. Now, we are writing my story." Holgate reiterated.
"I think the time has come for us to take ownership, most important, through the arts. The arts can help us to heal in some of these things. Because some of these things have gone so long ago, legislation won't necessarily heal the emotional wound, but the arts can, theatre can, drama can. That is the catharsis that makes it better."
The dramaturgy is being done by Amber Chevannes and Fabian Thomas, whose role is to take the script and infuse it with some dramatic elements and its theatre reality. "I need these dramaturgies to craft something so important," said Holgate
On the matter of reparations, Holgate believes that Jamaicans are still not understanding the importance of reparations. "We haven't reached as far as we should, and this is why this public education campaign."
While Samuels opined that persons who are cynical about reparations "have succumbed to the education that has been given to us, the education came when we were forced to sing Britannia rules the way. Britannia rules the way days are gone. We should practise the education given after our own research."
He then proceeded to support his philosophy with historical evidence based on research by Professor Hilary Beckles before concluding with:
"If those [the planters] who benefited were economically compensated, what happened to those [the slaves] who created that wealth? So the people who are cynical are persons who almost not knowing their history. If you look at the Jews, their Holocaust lasted for six years, and they have built museums; they have hunted the people who wronged them, and they have got compensation. The Japanese [too, among others]. Are we going to say that we should not be compensated? It is because of miseducation, and, therefore, part of the NRC campaign is public education."
Among the other activities is a breakfast forum with Danny Glover. Ian Randle, an NCR member, said the well-known actor's visit would be more of an exchange of ideas as well as to strengthen the conversation on reparations.