IT DOESN’T matter how many years you define as making up a generation, there is no denying that Jamaican comedian Oliver Samuels has been around for a few.
He’s an entertainment industry legend. A walking, talking relic, an icon whose vast accrued experience comes from delivering every aspect of comedy possible with aplomb and a creative execution inherently his own.
Talking to Life & Style just moments after touching down in the UK from Jamaica ahead of the tour of a new play he has co-written and directed, he outlined how he’d managed to bring about such longevity.
“What I believe is the reason for my existing so long is the passion that I have for the craft and the reactions that I get from the various audiences that I play to. Also the material that I work with,” he enthused.
He added: “Believe in yourself. Be humble and be open to negative and positive criticism.”
Born in St Mary, Jamaica, Samuels celebrates his 70th birthday this year. His new play 56 East Avenue, brought about to hail this special milestone, is a slice of life from a time when “Jamaica was at its most colourful” – the 1970s. It has attracted sold-out audiences and positive reviews in Jamaica, throughout the Caribbean, America and Canada.
It depicts life in a ‘tenamentyaad’, detailing the chronicles of a landlord trying to collect rent from delinquent tenants while at the same time creating a comfortable living space for the others.
Talking about what UK audiences can expect, Samuels said: “They can expect two hours of family entertainment, they are going to be moving in to this tenamentyaad at 56 East Avenue and for two hours they will be tenants of that yard.”
Delving into the creative process prior to bringing the play to life he said: “The play was cowritten with Dennis Titus. It was an enjoyable process after we arrived at the end result.
“It was rocky at times. We both felt that we had gone overboard with the story at times but the fact that I lived the experience was the balance to creating the story.
“All of us in this production love every aspect of it. I particularly love the outcome because the actors, in my view, have lived up to their expectations.”
Samuels got his start after enrolling in the Jamaica Theatre School from 1971 to 1973, and has gone on to be hailed a king of comedy. He is one Jamaica’s most compelling theatre voices with a colourful mastery for the country’s style.
He has written an incredible chapter in the history of Jamaica and by extension, the Caribbean at large.
For this unique production Samuels has handpicked a star-studded cast, which features his old sparring partner Vollier ‘Maffy’ Johnson, the dynamic Audrey ‘Dance Hall Queen Reid, the talented aforementioned Titus and wonderful Lakesha Ellison. And it’s a line-up of which he is very proud. “With Vollier, we started way back when we were two young guys. It really is a pleasure to work with him,” he said.
“We’ve also had our differences in relation to the craft and in relation to the performance level, but in the end we both respect each other’s craft and the fact that it comes with responsibility and it’s up to us to live up to that. We have to represent in various forms. We have to represent as Jamaicans and as Caribbeans and we have to represent the character as we see it or as it is determined.”
He added: “Vollier plays a really nice role in this play.
“Audrey Reid is so strong in her role as Eena. She is the women who is in every aspect of the people’s lives who live there.
“She doesn’t work, she just interferes with everybody. Audrey plays the role amazingly.
“Dennis captures a special kind of Rasta to what I feel is the to-the-nth-power.
“Lakesha Ellison plays a pseudo-Christian and a girl who has fallen from grace by society and she also does an amazing job.
“I am totally pleased with what is happening and it has manifested itself in the reaction that we are getting as we move from venue to venue. We are always playing to sold-out audiences.
“A lot of people came to Jamaica in the weeks that followed the start of the year and saw the show and they totally enjoyed it and promised to spread the word in England. 56 East Avenue is doing good work.”
Promoter Bagga John of BJ Production said: “Oliver Samuels is a supreme legend, a champion among champions and this tour will be very special for his many adoring UK fans.”
Catch 56 East Avenue
May 31: The Riverside Centre, Derby
June 1: Wythenshawe Forum, Manchester
June 2: The Alexandra, Birmingham
June 7: Bedford Corn Exchange, Bedford
June 8: Hackney Empire, London
June 9: City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds
June 14: Zoroastrian Centre, Harrow
June 15 and 16: Broadway Theatre, Catford
For more information contact
BJ Production at b.j.production@
Sponsored by JN Money