Henry Muttoo created a sense of carnival in England recently, and there was a lot of drama involved.
It all centred on his production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the Rugby School in Warwickshire as part of a cultural exchange.
The well-known artistic director and designer from Cayman was invited by the school’s head of drama and theatre studies, Robert Drennan, known to Island residents as the longtime head of drama at Cayman High School and founder of the Caymanites playwriting group.
“He gave me a choice of plays and I chose The Tempest,” says Muttoo, who worked with students of mixed age (14-17) and experience. In six weeks overseas, he did what he does best – designed and made costumes, taught a couple of classes in design, and directed.
For the production, Muttoo balanced his carnival interpretation with an approach that would make sense to a British audience. His flair is readily apparent in the dazzling costume designs, particularly those of Ariel, Caliban and the spirits.
“Anyone who directs a play, the play in some way reflects their own experience,” he says. “I wanted to move the play beyond the original interpretation, so I used a mixture of an island theme, with ‘native’ costumes with feathers.”
Beyond the accoutrements of costume and design, Muttoo’s direction reflects his own interpretation, in this case, in relation to the human psyche as it pertains to the characters of Caliban, the servant, and Prospero, the magician.
“I wanted the kids to understand the universality of the human psyche and to know that we are all capable of forgiveness,” the latter a characteristic ultimately reflected in both Prospero and Caliban.
Further, he says, and as important, “I wanted the kids to understand the words that Shakespeare wrote. The challenge of a director is always, how do you interpret the words of the play?”
The magic isn’t just confined to the play itself, as Muttoo notes: “While you’re directing, you’re learning from them also, and then comes the magic of discovery.
“It was as much an educational experience for me as it was for the kids.”
The cultural exchanges, he reminds, work both ways.
“These exchanges really are critical in terms of how we do the work we do in Cayman – they give us the opportunity to see and understand the world a little bit better.”
It’s fair to say that Muttoo took a little bit of the magic of Cayman to the young artists in England, but it wasn’t the first time.
In 1996, when Drennan helped start the Rugby Festival of the Arts, the Cayman National Cultural Foundation (where Muttoo hangs his artistic director’s hat) took a production of The Fallen Angels with local actors Penny Phillips and Consuela Ebanks to England.
Muttoo hopes that at some point Drennan will come to the Cayman Islands to bring the cultural exchange full circle.