Teacher (Angelo Lascelles) and Paula (Shana Hinds) in a pivotal scene during ‘Looking Back at Sodom’.
The Teacher – an educator with a taste for women of the much younger variety; Madame, a reformed brothel owner who still has ties to world she left behind; Paula, a woman who returns from abroad, stripped of her dreams, left to carry nothing but her suitcase and a deadly virus; and Polo -?? the hustler, charlatan and villain.
These characters form part of the cast which bring the play Looking Back at Sodom to life.?? The theatrical piece tells a tale of abuse, betrayal, stigma and the impact of HIV and AIDS.
Such solemn themes are often difficult to face, but the laughter and crowd response from the audience at the play’s most recent showing would suggest that there is much more to Sodom than can be put to paper.
The Ministry of Tourism first hosted the play during Love Safely Week in February and again last weekend at the Princess Margaret Secondary School, St. Philip.?? It is a joint venture with the St. Philip HIV/AIDS Education Group and the St. Philip Constituency Councils.?? The Ministry’s HIV/AIDS Coordinator, Madge Dalrymple, revealed that the southern parish would not be the final stop for the play, as other Councils had indicated interest in having it hosted in their communities.
Although the activity surrounding Looking Back at Sodom is relatively recent, the piece dates back to 2000, when it won first prize in the HIV/AIDS Commission’s Playwriting Contest.?? According to writer and director, Winston Farrell, the play developed overtime into what is delivered to audiences today.
"The play mushroomed into what it was…I knew that I wanted to look at the issue of abuse and the issue of HIV/AIDS …as the characters came together, the play started to write itself.
"I was teaching a course at the Barbados Community College last year, 2010, so the majority of this cast would’ve been students in that class…[I was]?? teaching them community drama, and the students get to select the topics they want to look at…we had students interested in issues such as abuse, violence against women, so?? when we had to select a play, naturally I gravitated towards this text.?? The play debuted at Frank Collymore Hall, last year April, as a final year portfolio exam."
That showing was open to the public, as was the one held last Saturday night, and the attendees, who participated in a talk back session following the play, used the opportunity to share their thoughts on the production and what needs to be done in order for the public to understand that the threat of HIV/AIDS is very real.
One audience member, Tina Puckerin, explained that one issue relevant to the spread of HIV/AIDS was transactional sex, where relationships are formed based on the exchange of sex for gifts and money.?? She remarked that the practice was prevalent among youth, especially females, and noted that esteem played an important role in changing behaviour.
"The only way that I can think of to really help young people is to break the taboo about sex and the body and how women feel about their bodies.?? Because if you really feel good about yourself, you won’t [exchange it] for money," she offered.
Ashley Corbin – who delivered the role of young student and Teacher’s pet, Nathalee, in the play – suggested that the first step was to determine exactly what young people understood about topics relevant to HIV and AIDS.??
"We usually talk about sex but we need to go back a little bit and find out what our youth consider to be sex. Because there are other things that young people do that they think is ???safe’ for them to do because it’s not the actual [act]…," she observed, adding that it was misconceptions that often led to risky behaviour and, ultimately, sexually transmitted diseases.?? Leanne Humphrey, who played the matriarch, Madame, suggested that the common belief that ???children are children and adults are adults’ led to young people’s hesitance to share their thoughts and experiences with persons in their family.
The production is not the Ministry’s first foray into using dramatic art to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.?? Producer for Looking Back at Sodom, Cecily Spencer-Cross, revealed the long history between theatre and the Ministry’s efforts to raise awareness.
"For the last five years I’ve been working with the Ministry of Tourism using theatre for HIV/AIDS [awareness] …when I saw this play, I thought it would’ve been an ideal production to educate people…I always tell people about the night that we did ???Final Truth’.?? We always have a discussion after [the play] and ??this woman got up one night and said ???this is not a play, this is my life story – the man said to me that he was not HIV positive, he even showed me a piece of paper and now here I am telling you that I am HIV positive’.?? And from that day I knew that drama worked.?? And she may
have been the strong one to get up and say it, but there are other people in the audience sitting there saying, you know, this has touched my life," she stressed.????
As with any production, the message is as crucial as its messengers, and the talented cast embodied their roles – Shakira Forde as the young and rebellious Yasmin; Shana Hinds as the troubled, prodigal daughter, Paula; Levi King, as the frank and outspoken Ralphe; Angelo Lascelles as the charming and dramatic Teacher; Dainika Bynoe, as Kim, who gave extra punch to the final scene, and Matthew ???Kupakwashe’ Murrell, as Polo – the character with whom the chaos begins and ends.
The audience expressed appreciation for the play and the efforts being made to tackle the ever present issue of HIV/AIDS.?? However, even after the applause has subsided and the crowd goes home, the cause remains and Looking Back at Sodom always leaves a simple reminder, with all those who see it – there is still much more to be done.