17 March 2017

How Derek Walcott brought his dramatic vision to the Lakeside Theatre

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Derek Walcott at the Lakeside Theatre

The Lakeside Theatre at the University of Essex’s Colchester Campus hosted a late flourishing of new theatrical work and revivals by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott during his time as Visiting Professor of Poetry.

Each year from 2011 to 2013 Walcott staged a production of his work at the Lakeside Theatre during his summer term visits and then in 2014 as part of a partnership between the Lakeside and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

Lakeside Theatre director Barbara Pierson, speaking after the announcement of Walcott's death on Friday (March 17), said: “Derek brought the world to see the shows he staged at the Lakeside Theatre.

“He attracted to our Colchester Campus some of our greatest writers who wanted to come to see and hear his work performed.

“He also allowed us to welcome in audiences who might not normally come to the Lakeside including Caribbean audiences who absolutely loved his work.”

Walcott, who also received an honorary degree from the University of Essex, was Visiting Professor of Poetry from 2010 to 2013.

During his annual visits to the University he created more and more ambitious productions with the support of Walcott experts Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli from the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies and Dr Penny Woollard, who was completing her PhD at the Department at the time.

The Lakeside productions included Moon-Child (Ti-Jean in Concert) in 2011, Pantomime in 2012, O Starry Starry Night in 2013, and Omeros in 2014.

Walcott was also able to attract outstanding actors to his UK plays including Dean Atta, Brian Carter-Green. Joan Iyiola, Martina Laird, Wendell Manwarren, , Joseph Marcell Nigel Scott, David Tarkenter and Lesley-Ann Wells.

Barbara co-directed the premiere of Walcott’s play Oh Starry Starry Night with him after he was initially unable to travel to the UK to oversee rehearsals due to health reasons. Walcott gave feedback to Barbara and the cast over Skype.

Barbara said: “It was a great honour to work with Derek. He was passionate about the theatre and he loved being in the rehearsal room listening to the words he had written spoken by actors he loved – actors who absolutely adored him and would travel huge distances to work with him.

“I was so relieved when Derek arrived to see O Starry, Starry Night and he said he liked it!”

The Lakeside Theatre fostered the links between Walcott and Shakepeare’s Globe which made their 2014 production of Omeros possible. The play was rehearsed at the Lakeside Theatre and also received its UK premiere before transferring to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe’s London home.

Barbara said: “He was really, really moved by that production. He watched every single performance at the Lakeside Theatre and at the Globe. It meant so much to him to see his greatest work performed and we are very proud that we helped to make that happen.

“Looking back he was able to achieve so much during his time at Essex and it shows how he was still so passionate about his writing and creating new work right to the end of his life.”

Barbara added: “It was such a privilege for us all to work with this incredible poetry and text. I felt he was able to bring together the culture, language and history of the Caribbean, Africa and Europe to create something extraordinary.”

Derek Walcott productions at the Lakeside Theatre:

Derek Walcott at Essex

Pantomime

O Starry Starry Night

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