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Heist Steals the Spotlight

Heist by Maya Wilkinson is a bright, funny new Jamaican play

Heist came to life on the stage of the Tallawah Drama Festival in 2014 when it copped awards for Best Production, Best New Play, and Best Set declaring its writer and director Maya Wilkinson an interesting talent to watch. Three years later, The Heist has been stretched and massaged into a full-length play, and while there is some evidence of strain under the lengthening, this new Jamaican play is an often hilarious comedy that is worth a trip to the theatre. 

Heist combines the comedy of errors with the comedic heist and mystery genres of film, and in truth it owes much more to the film tradition than to the theatre, an element which works both for and against it. Heist pays homage to these films in its use of music, costume design and even in the character development.

But while it is a story about a theft, The Heist attempts to be about more. It’s soft underbelly exposes an interest in the state of art in Jamaica, when art and artists do not get sufficient support. While this subtext occasionally results in some awkward soapbox moments, it is often subtly slipped into the message and meaning of the production. 

Yet, despite this important message that runs under the story, Heist does not take itself too seriously, and that often works brilliantly. It’s humour is deliberately over-the-top (it is a farce after all) but wittily crafted. 

In addition to the strong writing, Heist also benefits from a good cast, with generally strong performances from the lead characters. Several of the younger members of the cast, were often a little too over-the-top, at the wrong moments, which is probably equally to due to the director’s inexperience. 

In this new version, Desmond Dennis who had copped a Best Actor Award at Tallawah, retains his role as TIGS a verbose thief who has bitten off much more than he can chew.   David Crossgill also returns as the burly and affable Max - a thief with a heart of something shiny - but definitely not gold. Together, Dennis and Crosgill are delightful to watch, exercising great comedic timing.

Christopher McFarlane brings Detective Delacroix hilariously to life. Delacroix, made in a similar image to Inspector Clouseau, enjoys being verbose, but often stumbles on malapropism, and though he takes himself seriously, he’s evidently quite inept.

Other key members of the cast included Everaldo Creary who takes on the role of full-time artist and part-time thief, Ricky, and Michael Holgate as Mr. Shepherd, the don with an interest in supporting the rise of the local artist, and who is not afraid to cut off your finger to do so.

The play also benefits from Wilkinson’s strong sense of design. The set pieces look good, there is a great use of colour, an element with also works well in the costume design. Yet, while the set pieces look good, due to the high number of locations, the set as a cohesive whole left much to be desired, with far too much of it taking place front-of-curtain.

Interestingly, Heist doesn’t take place in Jamaica, but it’s Jamaica adjacent. We know it isn’t the island largely because, well there is apparently not much crime to report on, as the daily paper declares ‘All Well in Town’, as well as in the design of town centre when we get there. This absence of crime, or anything much to report forms the catalyst for the plot, when three hapless reporters and their editor decide to make much ado about an exhibition in order to drive sales for their daily newspaper.

On it’s opening night, the play ran a little too long. While it generally had great energy, some scenes dragged and good easily have been remedied by the delete button. However, the scenes that worked, and most of them did, were often fabulously orchestrated, producing more than a few belly laugh moments. 

Heist, a bright, funny comedy, is currently playing at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts. It opened on Friday, July 21, 2017 and will continue through to Sunday, June 30, 2017.