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Yarico at the London Theatre Workshop

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 26th Feb 2015 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

 

The story of Yarico, an Amerindian woman who saved the life of and subsequently fell in love with a British merchant who then sold her into slavery on the island of Barbados, has been around since the 1600s. Since then there have been more than 60 retellings including an opera in 1787, which added fuel to the growing debate on the ethics of slavery.

Now it is being revived – by Jodie Kidd, who is co-producing it with her father John at the London Theatre Workshop above a pub near Fulham Broadway.

But if you think this is just a whim of the former supermodel and TV presenter, you are mistaken. Jodie was brought up in Barbados where the story was re-enacted at her mother Wendy’s arts festival, and she thinks it is of great historical significance, reminding us of the value of freedom, and needs to be heard again, not only on stage but in schools and cultural institutions both here and in the Caribbean.

The 10-year labour of love couldn’t have got off to a better start. A standing ovation ended the press night of the world premiere in which the appropriately named Liberty Buckland, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, is making her professional debut in the title role.

It was hard to imagine how as many as 10 actors at one time could even move on so small a stage but from the first sound of crickets and the crashing of waves, we were transported to a faraway place. And within just a couple of minutes the actors had already established their characters, making the stage not a crowded but a busy, bustling place.

The bamboo hanging from the ceiling and the shiny black walls and floor, which conjured up a dense, sweaty place, added to the atmosphere, as did the basic sackcloth costumes of the characters.

But this is a musical, and almost tribal, hypnotic drums and percussion sit easily beside catchy tunes and haunting ballads under the able direction and orchestration of Zara Nunn.

The show opens with Yarico reading Shakespeare to her fellow villagers. It’s the only English she knows so when English merchant Thomas Inkle is washed ashore, some of the show’s many humorous lines are delivered as she tries to make him understand her while nursing him and saving him from execution.

Yarico is a big part to play, especially when it is your stage debut. She has to be naïve, vulnerable, in love, desperate, angry – and give birth – while singing, but Buckland takes it all in her stride with a performance which takes her to our hearts.

While Alex Spinney does not show so much expression (I expect the stiff upper lip applied in those days too) until the final, heart-rending scene, his voice says it all, and it’s not hard to believe that he has sung alongside Pavarotti at the Royal Opera House.

The rest of the cast also do a sterling job. Melanie Marshall’s experience with the National Theatre and in the West End and New York shows in her strong portrayal of Ma Cuffe, and I particularly liked Tori Allen-Martin’s expressive performance as Yarico’s fun-loving, loyal friend Nono; Jean-Luke Worrell is hilarious as her slightly camp lover Cicero, and West End performer Keisha Amponsa Banson  as the wide-eyed Jessica shows she can do nasty as well as shy and vulnerable as in the lovely scene with Michael Mahoney as Frank when he is teaching her to dance.

Charlotte E Hamblin as Lady Worthy is wonderfully cold and haughty. However, Suzanne Ahmet’s versatility and comic performance really stands out for me. One minute a Cockney landlady, another a South African, then a tough northern overseer, her talent knows no bounds.

Under the direction of Emily Gray, this musical has it all. It’s a powerful and epic story of forbidden love, betrayal and redemption which will have you in tears – of sadness and laughter. And it may well prove that Jodie Kidd has a future as a theatre producer!

Yarico is at the London Theatre Workshop until March 14

Box Office: 01202 045659

www.londontheatreworkshop.co.uk

 

Comments

1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Sounds like this new musical needs a bigger stage, Clare! Thanks for your review.
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