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Meet the team behind Playboy Of The West Indies

By Diane Parkes

The world premiere of the musical Playboy of the West Indies will be in tribute to its writer
Mustapha Matura, say the team behind the production.


Mustapha, whose comedy drama Playboy of the West Indies was first performed in 1984, was working on its musical adaptation when he died suddenly in October 2019. Now opening at Birmingham Rep, the show will be a joyous celebration of Mustapha’s story and his ideas for the musical according to Clement Ishmael and Dominique Le Gendre, who have created the score.


The composers worked with Mustapha and director and producer Nicholas Kent who commissioned the original drama nearly 40 years ago. Based on the classic Playboy of the Western World by J M Synge, Mustapha moved the story to his birth country of Trinidad and the play has been hugely successful ever since.

Mustapha had, for many years, wanted to turn Playboy of the West Indies into a musical,” says Clement. “It really lends itself to that idea.”


The team had reached the point of workshopping their ideas when Covid-19 struck and the project was postponed. Sadly it was during that period that Mustapha died at the age of 79.

We all got on really well and were enjoying the project,” says Clement, whose previous work include Disney’s The Lion King and Five Guys Named Moe. “This was the last thing Mustapha was working on before he died and it is a really great tribute to him because I think it’s full of his life, vitality and energy.

The show is a joyous celebration of Caribbean culture. Caribbean culture is in the DNA of this country and Caribbean music has been here for a long time. So there’s a lot that people can understand and musically they can relate to.


Dominique, whose work has been performed by Shakespeare’s Globe, Talawa Theatre and the Royal Opera House, had composed for two of Mustapha’s previous plays and says he was very involved in seeing Playboy of the West Indies become a musical.

Mustapha was so integral to the process because he was key to us deciding what we would keep and what would transform into a song, and which songs needed to be developed more and pushed as far as possible to heighten the moments. Of course it is totally different doing a play from doing a musical. As Clem would keep reminding us, ‘why are we putting a song there?’ and ‘what is the point of a song there?’”

Playboy of the West Indies is the first time Clement and Dominique have worked together on a score and it was a learning process for both. Dominique is Trinidadian so brings a real understanding of the country’s voice, language and rhythm.

It was interesting having two composers so we had to figure out who was going to write what,” says Clement. “It’s funny because when we first started working together on the first act we said Dominique starts from the top and I start from the back and then we’ll work our way into the middle.

That’s how we started but then we began mixing and matching on songs. Once I got to know Dominique and we moved into the second act, we’d get to where we needed a song and I’d say ‘this feels like you Dominique’ or she’d say it was with me.

So now there’s music we’ve done separately and music we’ve done together. Stylistically we are really different and it gives a richness to the piece itself. There are 20-plus songs and they are all unique and beautiful and yet it all comes together.

It has been an amazing process. I’m used to working on my own but to work with someone who is equally creative, you have to listen and embrace it.”

The show takes place in 1950’s Trinidad. When a stranger appears in the sleepy seaside village of Mayaro, his mysterious story enchants local people – but is there more to this stranger than meets the eye? And the music is integral to the tale.

We are using the musical language of calypso of the fifties and some traditional songs and instrumentation,” says Dominique. “So the cuatro is used a lot and then also instruments which are more connected to our Venezuelan and our Spanish history so you get a lot of percussion, clarinets and flutes.

The language of Trinidad is completely integrated in this production. What Mustapha has succeeded in doing is capturing the vernacular of Trinidad and epitomising these characters from this little village with all of the mixture of philosophy, lightness and serious issues. There is high comedy in this story and the fact it is told in the vernacular means you discover even more of the nuts and bolts of what’s wrong in these families.

People forget the extent to which all British culture, English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh, has fed into and is part of the warp and weft of the Caribbean. Our history has been dramatic and tragic and yet this is what it has given us, what you can see out of that troubled and troublesome history is a culture that belongs to all of us.”

The show is presented as part of Birmingham 2022 Festival and the team are looking forward to finally seeing audience reactions.


I think they will be transported to the Caribbean,” says Clement. “It’s the set with the sand and the sea. It’s the time and the place, it’s the calypso music – we want to transport people to 1950’s Trinidad.

That’s what Mustapha wanted it to be. He was such a part of it. This was one of his dreams, to make it into a musical and so now it has become more of a tribute to him and for his family, that is why we are so keen to do it.”

And Dominique says they will be remembering Mustapha at the premiere.

This show is a triumph, from Nick Kent because he has driven this through despite all the delays, and from Mustapha for his story and his enthusiasm. We’ll have a good rum in tribute to him.”

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