The pleasures and perils of female sex tourism on the idyllic Negril Beach on the west coast of Jamaica is the promising topic of Tanika Gupta’s new play, a promise the production never really delivers while skirting round various personal stories.
Whereas Willy Russell took one particular case history in the tale of Shirley Valentine skipping away from reality to Greece, Gupta introduces us to four ladies whose search for sex in the sun has contrasting motivation with undercooked development. The play also tries to unravel the various impulses behind the service industry of black men to white women, the “milk bottles” that arrive on European flights into Kingston.
Kitty (Heather Craney) is a thirty-eight year old teacher from Manchester who likes younger men and might even settle down on the island. Maggie (Lynda Bellingham) is a fifty-something misfit with a sharp tongue and vicious streak. Yolanda (Adjoa Andoh) is a dusky-skinned married American and long-standing holiday lover of Reefie (Victor Romero Evans), the most experienced gigolo on the beach who part-owns a glass-bottomed boat. And Naomi (strikingly pretty Vinette Robinson) is a 22 year-old architect of mixed race in search of her father.
The director Indhu Rubasingham does her best to weave the short, information-heavy scenes into a coherent stage action, but the bittiness of the construction finally defeats her, and there is little sense of either paradisiacal escape or indeed sensual dependency. Lez Brotherston’s sand-filled design never solves the problem of the beach’s proximity to the sea, and the mixture of foreground reality and projected mountain scenery amounts to a confusing aesthetic of non-specific location.
Naomi tries to beguile the beach grill chef, Andre (Marcel McCalla), with an offer to pay for his studies at catering school. Kitty throws herself totally at young Sly (Javone Prince) before being bitterly disillusioned. And in the play’s most disturbing – and frankly idiotic – scene, Maggie rolls off the teenage sun bed attendant Antonio (Jason Frederick) who has failed to stand and deliver and ties him up with a strangely convenient rope and beats him about the body with the branch of a palm tree.
You sense, too, that the most interesting area of the play might be the sad, insistent choric refrain of old Reefie and his friend Angel (Lorna Gayle) who supplies the ladies with massages and hair-braiding. Angel is Andre’s mother, and Reefie might be more closely linked to one of the tourists than he cares to admit. But like the other characters, they both suffer from chronic under-writing, and Angel’s bombshell that closes the play leaves you gasping for the next scene that never comes.