Stanley French, one of the Caribbean’s leading playwrights has died. Born in 1937 in Castries, Saint Lucia, he attended the Methodist Primary School and St. Mary’s College, following which he moved to London where he completed the Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering at the University of London in 1962.
In London, during the 1960’s, he was exposed to international literature, theatre and cinema, both modern and traditional. London was then a Caribbean intellectual hub nurturing writers and students grappling with issues of Caribbean self-determination and development. The city was a vibrant centre with many professional and “fringe” theatres, cinemas, bookshops and associated facilities.
French’s attraction to theatre began after he saw a St. Lucia Arts Guild performance of Derek Walcott’s play, The Sea at Dauphin at his alma mater the Methodist Primary School in the mid-1950s. It was directed by Roderick Walcott and determined his lifelong interest in grappling with the craft of playwriting. London gave him opportunities to see performances by some of the world’s leading theatre companies. He developed a particular admiration for the work of the ancient Greek writers of tragedy, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides.
He wrote his first play, The Rape of Fair Helen, in 1962 and followed up with some memorable scripts which have been staged in the Caribbean, London and Nigeria. The Rape of Fair Helen was first performed at the St. Lucia Arts Festival and the Commonwealth Institute Theatre in London in 1966. His Light and the Dark was performed by the Lighthouse Theatre Company in St Lucia in 2001.
Most of his plays have been produced and well received in Jamaica. Other works include Ballad of a Man and Dog, The Interview, No Rain No Play and Under a Sky of Incense which was written in 1977 and is regarded as a masterpiece. C.L.R. and Selma James, Roderick Walcott and Dennis Scott, the late outstanding Jamaican man-of-theatre, are among the persons he identified with and who encouraged him and contributed to his development as a writer.
A passionate, lifelong fan of cricket, in 1979, he published a stirring essay titled Francis Mindoo Phillip – A Portrait from Memory in honour of one of St Lucia’s most renowned cricketers and French’s hero, now deceased. In 2006, he published another essay on cricket titled Come In, My Lords, Come In! in which he made his case for imbuing the Beausejour Cricket Ground with a St. Lucian personality by identifying five St. Lucian high achievers and naming various parts of the venue after them.
In 2000, he was awarded the Saint Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold) in recognition of his contribution to the literary and performing arts in Saint Lucia.