Pantomime company plans virtual salute to ‘those we lost’ on Boxing Day
No gala opening on December 26
The Little Theatre Movement’s (LTM) annual pantomime, which traditionally opens on Boxing Day, will not be staged this year. Still, plans are in place for something special to unfold in the virtual space on December 26 and for a gala opening in the first quarter of 2023.
On Boxing Day, the LTM will pay tribute to five key players in theatre who have passed, namely Lois Kelly Miller, Robert Clarke, Volier Johnson, Barbara Gloudon and Leonie Forbes.
LTM executive Anya Gloudon, whose mother, pantomime doyenne Barbara Gloudon passed away on May 11, shared that for this year, the company had to “reassess [its] goals”.
“We had begun preparations on Trash and Hype, a reworking of Trash. [But] as committed as we are to the pantomime and keeping the legacy alive, we realised a full-fledged production for Boxing Day was a hard task. So we’re putting back that run to April of 2023,” Gloudon shared.
She added, “However, we realised that we had to recognise the traditional date and acknowledge what we’ve gone through in recent years with COVID and loss, so we crafted a Tribute Revue, which salutes those who have gone.”
All five stalwarts have served the LTM’s annual pantomime with distinction.
Gloudon explained that for this production, the team collected film clips, memories, and restaged excerpts “to pull together a lively production that pays respect to the past and sets us up for another leg of the Panto race”.
The Little Theatre Movement, Jamaica’s longest surviving theatre company of contemporary times, was founded in 1941 by Henry Fowler and Greta Bourke (later Fowler) to raise funds for the building of the Little Theatre and to help in the development of drama in Jamaica. From its inception, the LTM committed itself to a vigorous policy of serving the public.
According to their website, one of the first LTM undertakings was the launching of the tradition now known as the National Pantomime. The first production, in 1941, Jack and the Beanstalk, was in keeping with the tradition of English theatre from where it came, to Jamaica. In that form, a tale of childhood was adapted for the stage with elements of music, song, dance, comedy, drama, and colourful costumes and sets.
The last pantomime in the pre-COVID era was Ruckshon Junction, which had its opening night on December 26, 2019. The pandemic in 2020 interrupted the flow and literally brought down the curtains two months before its scheduled Mother’s Day finale.
Lois Kelly Miller
Theatre and screen actress Lois Kelly Miller became a household name in Jamaica for her decades-long professional career in theatre and pantomime, particularly with the Little Theatre Movement National Pantomime. One of her most notable roles was in the pantomime Queenie’s Daughter, which was first staged in 1963. On-screen Kelly Miller appeared in the movie Meet Joe Black, which starred Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins. She took on this role while in her 70s. A former piano teacher, she shared a great friendship with cultural icon Louise Bennett-Coverley. Lois Kelly Miller passed away on April 8, 2020. She was 102.
Robert ‘Bobby’ Clarke
Bobby Clarke wore many hats. He was a director with the Little Theatre Movement; teacher; adjudicator for the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s Festival of the Arts (Speech and Drama); television and stage actor; television and radio programme presenter; and producer. He was also responsible for mounting theatrical productions and commercial ventures, such as adult dramas, with the most notable and prolific being the Little Theatre Movement’s national pantomimes. He played the role of director for several pantomimes, including Jangah Rock, Miss Annie, Comboluh, Iffa Nuh So, Zu-Zu Macca, Nuff and Plenty, and Runner Boy.
Clarke passed away on April 16, 2020, at his home in Kingston.
Volier ‘Maffie’ Johnson
Renowned actor Volier Johnson was best known as ‘Maffie’ from the hugely popular Oliver at Large television series. Johnson was involved in theatre for more than 50 years and is known for his stand-out roles in The Harder They Come (1972), Better Mus’ Come (2011), and Milk and Honey (1988). In the 1980s, he performed in pantomimes such as Tantaloo, Trash and Schoolers; Ginger Knight plays, including Higglers, Stepfather, and Room For Rent; and Basil Dawkins’ productions from that period, extending into the 1990s. One of Dawkins’ plays, Toy Boy, won Johnson the Actor Boy Award for Best Actor in 1996. Johnson died on July 9, 2021, in Kingston.
Veteran Jamaican broadcaster, journalist, playwright, communications consultant, and lay preacher, Barbara Gloudon was known as the ‘Pantomime Lady’ for an excellent reason. She is credited with either writing or co-writing more than 50 per cent of the productions in its 80-year history. It was in 1969 that LTM co-founder Greta Fowler invited Gloudon to write a script for the annual pantomime production. Gloudon wrote Moonshine Anancy, one of the island’s most known pantomimes. Other pantomimes for which Gloudon is credited are Music Boy (1971); Hail Columbus (1972); Johnny Reggae (1878); Pirate Princess (1981); Ginneral B (1983); River Mumma and the Golden Table (1986); Schoolers (1989); Fifty 50 (1990); Man Deh Yah (1991); Jangah Rock (1996); Anansi Web (1998); Miss Annie (2002); Zu-Zu Macca (2005); Runner Boy (2008); P rincess Boonoonoonoos (2014); and Dapper Dan The Anansi Man (2017). On May 11, 2022, Gloudon made her transition. She was 87 years old.
A pioneering radio, and television broadcaster, Leonie Forbes was an icon of Jamaican theatre. She played leading roles in 12 pantomimes and acted in plays such as Sea Mama, Miss Unusual, The Rope and the Cross, Old Story Time, and Champagne and Sky Juice. She also appeared in films such as Children of Babylon (1980); Club Paradise (1986); The Orchid House (1991); Milk and Honey (1995); What My Mother Told Me (1995), and Soul Survivor (1995). Forbes also co-authored a book called The Re-Entry Into Sound, which is a standard text used to train broadcasters all over the Caribbean. On October 25, at age 85, Forbes made her final exit.