Calypso, 1948

Calypso, 1948

Calypso opened in London in 1948. It was the first musical based on a West Indian subject with a predominantly West Indian cast. The date was significant. The opening night was just a month before the Windrush brought the first West Indian immigrants to Britain. Calypso was devised by English actor, dancer and designer Hedley Briggs, who became fascinated by Trinidad culture when he was stationed there in World War II.

Calypso took local songs and dances and pasted them into a standard musical comedy story of lovers' misunderstandings. The plot was old, but the West Indian dances were performed with a dash and verve that were new to English audiences in the late 1940s. The leading role was played by West Indian actor Edric Connor, who spent his life working to increase opportunities for black British performers. He set up an agency to represent them and campaigned for black British actors to replace visiting African American casts after six months. In 1958 he was the first black actor to perform in Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon.