Paulette Randall sets the Jamaican Olympic stage
Catching up with BAFTA Awards nominee, writer, director, and producer Paulette Randall almost put us in the same league as the fastest man in the world. So when she finally committed to a face-toface at the Soho Theatre on Dean Street, we got there a full hour ahead of schedule.
Column inch after column inch waxing about the thoroughly British approach to the opening of the Olympic Games has all but deified Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. Indeed, SO is still applauding the genius of it all. Learning, however, that the associate director of the opening was a woman of Jamaican descent — as many might appreciate — made it all the more spectacular.
Paulette Randall 'owns' the space that is the restaurant area of the Soho Theatre and is a head-turner in full black, knee-high boots and chunky silver accessories. She has the type of head, red-lipstick mouth and face that the late Ken Ramsay would have taken several days to 'suitably' photograph. “I'm starving,” she says as she enjoys a brownie and a cup of coffee. Her smile lights up not only her face, but also the eatery on one of those bizarre summer afternoons where the sun appears in flirtatious mode with grey clouds and gusty breeze. “I've just found a new agent, lost a dear friend and am working on Ha Ha Hackney,” explains Randall in-between sips of coffee and bites of the brownie. It is what it is — stuff happens! She keeps it real and very soon we are cosied up and chatting like long-lost friends.
“I was the associate director for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics,” she replies to our 'let's just get it out of the way' initial question. “Basically, that meant that I was involved in all areas in order to make the show happen. So, I script-edited and rewrote sections of the script, held auditions, had design and costume meetings and made decisions; not always with Danny. But the truth is, we really worked as a team alongside the two designers Suttirat Anne Larlarb and Mark Tildesley, and the writer Frank Cottrell Boyce.”
Randall is all smiles as we applaud, gush and press for more — like how she met Danny Boyle and what it was like working with him. “ I first met Danny over 25 years ago,” is her easy reply, rolling her huge eyes upwards as she tries to recall the exact time and date for us. “I was a competition winner in the Royal Court young people's writing festival, and the prize was a professional production of an extract of your play — Danny was the director! I then went on to train as a director at the Royal Court, and ended up assisting Danny on a play called Panic.” Fortuitous perhaps, for an unexpected meeting in a restaurant years later, followed by a telephone call and a meeting, landed her the job many only dream of.
“Working with him,” she continues, “is more like being part of a collective think tank, and we made an interesting team. I remember saying to Danny that, statistically, we — he as a white man and I as a black woman — are going to be in the minority in the next 25 years. That is why the show was so impressively multicultural.” This becomes the perfect segue into: what made Randall Danny's choice?
“I think Danny chose me for the job as I have a range of skills that were needed for the role. I write, I direct and I have produced TV shows.” For us, it's a bigger deal so we prod further… Save for an article in the Evening Standard by Liz Hoggard, there wasn't much else for us to sink our teeth into. Was it intentional or nonchalance on her part? If Randall is disappointed by the lack of press, she hides it deliciously well in her gorgeous face and wide smile. “I know that the press barely mentioned me,” is her immediate response, “but the ceremony was directed by the Oscar award-winning director Danny Boyle. Now, as much as I was his right-hand woman, our CVs are not equal. They will know who I am now!” Indeed they will! We reflect on the opening with that amazing scene of our West Indians disembarking the Windrush, the sound of Millicent Small and the role we played in building the health and transportation sectors, Randall's don't-get-it-twisted moment, where egos are checked and positioned nicely at stage left, is a candid reality check. We can, however, applaud gustily Randall, the accomplished theatre director, TV producer and writer, who still gets excited at whatever is coming next and is currently busy directing a celebration of Black British Comedy going back 50 years.
Randall, the Rose Bruford School of Speech and Drama alumna, takes us back to her initial influences: her parents and other family and friends. “As I grew, they became people who had achieved goals like actors on TV, sports people, writers, and fellow schoolmates.”
Indeed, Randall recalls how all through her early school life she performed in plays and as a teenager wrote sketches for friends and performed for school assemblies, “so I guess I was always going to do something art-related”.
If there's a single regret thus far, it's that Randall's “lovely parents have passed away”. Her mum Edith Lewis from Round Hill, St Elizabeth, and dad Albert Randall from Sandy Hill, St Catherine, met and married in the United Kingdom. The union produced two daughters, Paulette and her older sister Beverley.
Film-wise Randall has produced six short films for BBC. “I guess I was too busy directing plays and producing comedy shows for television… I think that I might have a go at writing for the big screen, but that's not to say that I would rule out directing, too.” She sees herself a decade from now still directing, writing and producing, getting better and better each time and encouraging the next generation to even greater heights. Further prodding gets her to reveal that she'd love to direct Samuel L Jackson. Turning to our own burgeoning film industry, Randall is effusive in her praise of Jamaica's exceptional history as film-makers: The Harder They Come, Smile Orange and Dancehall Queen. “I suspect,” she adds, “we are in the process of delivering the next batch of Jamaican film-makers in a major way… we still have so much to say. All I would say is: if you have the desire and drive to write or direct or act, just do it; and, of course, aim for all the major competitions. We have a legacy to uphold.”
So how does Randall see Jamaica in 50 years celebration mode? “Jamaica has every right to celebrate her 50th year of Independence with style, vigour and a true sense of pride. Having passed the 50 mark myself, I now feel ready to march forward with a confidence that I understand and that holds no fear. I feel the same about the island… it's big-people time now. Indeed it is, for the woman whose philosophy speaks to treating others as you would like to be treated. “When you love, don't forget to love yourself; and do not be afraid to dream. This is not a rehearsal.”