Review of ‘Retrograde’: ‘The circle of time’

Sidney Poitier’s inspiring story reveals one of its harshest chapters in this original play set during the 1950s political witch hunt. Guillermo Nazara shares his vision on the show, to let us know what secrets await behind the walls of Hollywood’s production offices.

“I have a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”. That’s what it was all about. That’s what it should always have been all about. But never before in a long, long time have we seen colour as much as of now. In some way, History repeats itself through the same fallacious delusion, erasing the essence of a noble cause to masquerade other interests under a phony surface of good intentions. Nowadays, they’re called oppressors. Back in the 50s, they were named communists.

McCarthy’s obsessive hunt for dissident thinkers serves as both allegory and setting for Ryan Calais Cameron’s new work. In a time when the good American values of liberty and democracy were at stake due to the tensions of the Cold War, the government of the alleged land of the free responded by blacklisting (and consequently destroying) all who would not ally with every bullet point in their convictions. A climate of terror and submission where no heresy (Greek for ‘those who have different beliefs’) was permitted – all, of course, in favour of ‘the greater good’. We haven’t changed a bit, huh?

Taking Hollywood star and Bahamian-American treasure Sidney Poitier as its driving mechanism, the plot involves the by-then flourishing actor taking one of the hardest decisions of his life: staying true to his principles and losing everything he has achieved, or falsely denounce the man he admires in order to keep his way up the ladder. Presented as a dark comedy, the seriousness and profundity of is themes provide the audience with an evening of rich, cultural entertainment – as well as, on several moments, an opportunity for reflection.

Directed by Amit Sharma, the script delivers the story at an adequate rhythm, which despite its beginning’s bumpy pacing, soon manages to grasp and entice the viewer’s curiosity with a firm grip until the end. Properly structured as a classic 3-act narrative (though arranged as an all-through performance), both the nature and subsequent evolution of the three characters are well delineated – weaving their inner journey through a deep, spoken fight among clashing values and interests.

Its cast manages to offer a legitimate (sometimes superb) rendition of the material. Ivanno Jeremiah encapsulates the heart and soul of Poitier with sufficient distinction of his own, projecting presence and some magnetism – both teaming up in good harmony with Ian Bonnar’s more humanized approach on his role as Hollywood creative and Poitier’s ally, Bobby. However, the biggest mention is fairly given to Daniel Lapaine’s uproarious depiction of NBC’s mobster-lawyer Mr. Parks, showing off an incredibly realistic understanding of both part and period – almost continuously, it appears as if you’re actually listening to a well-polished bully from Tinsel Town.

Despite its need for a better title (it just doesn’t have a good ring to it), Retrograde is an excellent effort of recount and insightfulness. It explores its themes with maturity and wisdom, and it manages to create a sound connection with its public by following one simple but very sage concept: the present can easily mirror the past. But maybe that should also encourage us to think that it’s not too distant the day when people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All pictures credit to Marc Brenner.

Retrograde plays at London’s Kiln Theatre until 27 May. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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