Since his death on May 6, Trevor Nairne has been hailed by theatre colleagues as the ultimate professional. A visionary who covered the gamut of his field.
Nairne, who died at age 73, made his name as a producer, director and set designer in a 50-year career. He had a relentless nature that became his signature.
“Trevor Nairne loved theatre, he was a man of excellence regardless of the cost and was passionate about Kingston becoming the Broadway of the Caribbean. He helped anyone and everyone in theatre who ran into any difficulty and called on him for help and guidance,” playwright Basil Dawkins told the Jamaica Observer. “Trevor felt that there had emerged a Jamaican theatre aesthetic and it should be codified and built on. Never one to get flustered or angry or show frustration in the face of overwhelming odds, Trevor Nairne was a producer’s director, he was a director’s director, he was an actor’s director and he was an audience director.”
Dawkins knew Nairne for over 45 years. They met while he (Dawkins) was a final-year student at The University of the West Indies. Nairne was an actor, appearing at The Barn Theatre in the play, School’s Out, by Trevor Rhone.
They developed a personal and professional relationship that resulted in Dawkins’ first play.
“He was kind to me and assisted in my being able to rent The Barn to do my first production, Flat Mate, in 1980.
He later went on to design several sets for me; I do recall No Dirty Money, many, many years ago and Once A Man Twice A Wife which is the play that was running when the COVID lockdown forced the run at the Little Little Theatre to end. He was actually working on the set for my current play, Hide Your Husband, but the same week he was scheduled to show my daughter sketches and a model, he was hospitalised [and] we never saw what he came up with,” said Dawkins.
At the time of his death, Nairne was artistic director and senior partner in Jambiz International. He founded that company just over 20 years ago with actor/producer Lenny Salmon and writer Patrick Brown.
The tandem, with a stock cast of actors that included Oliver Samuels and Glen Campbell, released a flurry of hit plays such as Oliver And Pinocchio and Breadfruit Kingdom.
Salmon first met Nairne in 1985 when he was an actor in the play Guava Jelly which Nairne directed. In addition to numerous plays, they worked together on several Grand Galas, the annual Jamaica Independence showpiece at the National Stadium.
“You didn’t have to go to university to learn... Trevor had his own university of the creative arts, the university of the big theatre,” said Salmon. “I learned so much at his feet...I learned it in the field, right beside Trevor.”
Nairne also impacted the early career of playwright David Heron. He directed Ecstasy, Intermission, and Against His Will which announced Heron’s foray into professional theatre during the early 1990s.
“I have known Trevor Nairne for over 20 years. Along with Alwyn Bully, he has been the most important guide and mentor in my entire theatrical career, and the major creative force behind all of my early successes,” said Heron in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
He noted Nairne’s intense commitment to detail and recalled an instance that made a lasting impression on him.
“We were on tour overseas with one of my plays and the promoter was grumbling about Trevor’s insistence on some relatively minor set dressing — it might have been a painting on the wall. Trevor looked at me and said, ‘When we come abroad to do these shows, we don’t ever go below the standard we set back home. It can be the same or it can be higher — but never lower’. I carry that mantra with me to this day,” Heron stated.
Nairne was from Central Kingston. After graduating from Stratford High School, he became an actor; the versatility he developed came through mentorship from theatre giants like Rhone, Norman Rae, Bobby Ghisays and Lloyd Reckord.
He was Rhone’s understudy at The Barn but also did formal studies at Cultural Training Centre, and the Jamaica School of Drama.
For his contribution to Jamaican theatre, Trevor Nairne was conferred with the Order of Distinction in 2010. His stage debut came during the golden age of Jamaican theatre and he left it as a colossus.
“His passing at this time is a massive loss for all areas of the Jamaican arts and culture industry. The impact will be felt by creatives for years,” said Dawkins.