Mamma Mia with the Friends of Devon House

Friday, August 03, 2018

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Built in 1881 and possessing national historic monument status since 1990, Devon House has been a popular location for locals and visitors since its reopening to the public in 1984. The house, originally built by Jamaica's first black millionaire George Stiebel, sits on 11 well-manicured acres and is one of the few publicly accessible green spaces in the Corporate Area.

Devon House Development Company Limited currently manages and maintains the landmark. And, with the help of a philanthropic committee secures funds that ensure that the grounds will be free from admission for future generations.

The Friends of Devon House was formed to source “funds for the preservation and operation of the property through fund-raising activities”. On Tuesday, July 31 the group had its first fund-raiser for 2018 — a screening of the film Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre. The almost sold-out event was supported by a number of Kingston's business leaders, philanthropists and members of ministerial bodies — all friends of Devon House. The event was a success.

The choice of film was fitting for the occasion. A PG-13 flick filled with toe-tapping and hand-clapping ABBA classics that allowed many of the attendees to reminisce about the disco era and, at some points, sing along. When the titular song played the audience did not hold back from singing the refrain “my my, how can I resist you?” The film was fun and better than part one. A character development arc which utilised flashback brought the whole storyline full circle. Lily James (Young Donna) had the daunting task of playing a young Meryl Streep (Donna) but pulled it off. This Downton Abbey alum (she played the impetuous Lady Rose) definitely held her own against the cast's other screen legends — Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Andy Garcia and Julie Walters. Spoiler alert: there's a cameo by Cher. And, yes, she sings. There's nothing like hearing Cher warble an ABBA hit.

During intermission, the Friends of Devon House drew three raffle prizes. The first — dinner for two at the Steak House on The Verandah at Devon House; the second — a wine basket courtesy of Novelty Party Rentals; and the third — pizza for two at La Pizzeria at Devon House's Grog Shoppe.

In her welcome, the evening's emcee Marilyn Bennett noted “many people have studied for various careers at Devon House… and of course, many people got married there — romances started right there, so Devon House is special to us.” She's right. We all have special memories of Devon House. Whether it's that school trip tour of the mansion where we first saw old-world wealth up close; or Sunday evenings spent in-line for ice cream; or having a picnic, disguised as a study session, under one of the shady trees. Devon House is a national jewel and means a lot to many Jamaicans. It should be preserved at all costs.

The Friends of Devon House has dedicated itself to preserving the heritage site, ensuring that it offers “Jamaicans and tourists alike a space that appeals to the senses” and remains “an authentic Jamaican experience”.

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