A screen grab from the popular roots play Unda mi Nose

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 56th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

Many purists consider the 1970s the golden age of Jamaican theatre. Trevor Rhone, Louis Marriott, and Barbara Gloudon are among the writers who produced some of that era's outstanding works.

A decade later, slapstick returned to Jamaican theatre in the form of the roots play. These bawdy productions, which had colourful titles such as Unda mi Nose, Maama Man, and Obeah Wedding, packed the halls. Roots plays' leading lights included producer Ralph Holness, and writers such as Ginger Knight and Balfour Anderson.

Holness, who died in 2013, is considered the godfather of roots theatre. He produced some of the genre's biggest plays including Unda mi Nose, Obeah Wedding and Dead Lef.

Andrea Wright, popularly known as Delcita, is one of contemporary roots theatre's biggest names. She noted that while traditional theatre pundits rarely give him his due, Holness revolutionised the Jamaican stage.

"Ralph Holness took roots theatre around the country, to every parish. He made Jamaicans appreciate live acting," she said.

Holness was a protege of Ed "Bim" Lewis of Bim and Bam (comic duo) fame. They were pioneers of roots theatre, first performing in north coast hotels during the 1930s.

Many theatre followers credit Holness's shrewd marketing for making his plays mega hits. They also drew a new generation of writers and actors to theatre including Knight, Anderson and actress Audrey Reid.

For all its commercial success, roots theatre rarely wins acclaim at the Actor Boy Awards, an annual event that salutes the year's finest performances on the Jamaican stage.

In August, the first Roots Theatre Awards were held in Ocho Rios, with Holness and the feisty Wright among the evening's winners. She said it was full time that a movement which began before Jamaica received Independence in 1962 got its just reward.

"It wasn't just about us, it was for all the people who came before who never got any recognition. Roots plays made the average Jamaican appreciate theatre."

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

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