Confusing Story of Slavery Saved by Fantastic Cast

Penny Flood reviews Yarico at Fulham's London Theatre Workshop

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Liberty Buckland as Yarico

Liberty Buckland as Yarico

London Theatre Workshop

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This new musical version of Yarico is based (very loosely) on the true story of a young Amerindian girl who falls in love and marries an Englishman. They sail to England only to stop in Barbados where her husband sells her into slavery.

The story first came to public attention in the eighteenth century when it was written about by a man called Richard Ligon in his book The True and Exact History of Barbados. From there it was turned into a hugely popular opera, bringing the reality of the slave trade to a wider audience. That it was so successful had quite a lot to do with the growth of the abolition movement and changing attitudes towards slavery, it caught a mood. There’s even a monument to Yarico in Barbados.

Sadly this confused and confusing production doesn’t quite do it justice.

Yarico at Fulham's London Theatre Workshop

There’s a fantastic cast, most notable of whom is Liberty Buckland in the title role, as she starts out as carefree teenager, becomes a betrayed young woman, terrified, pregnant, and shackled in a slave auction, forced to show her back to prove that she hasn’t been whipped and goes onto humiliation at the hands of the governor’s wife.

It’s Liberty’s professional debut and she’s made Yarico her own with a captivating stage presence.

Most of the rest of the cast play several roles but the direction is uneven so they often seem to be unsure of the characters they are playing. And the story gets clogged by irrelevancies so at times it’s difficult to work out what’s going on. The opening scenes with Yarico’s tribe are a case in point with feathers, folk lore and rituals that seem to belong to a different story altogether.  And it’s never fully explained why Yarico hugs a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare and how she is able to read and understand it.

But its heart is in the right place and no punches are pulled when they get down to the sheer horrors of slavery. There are some very good bits, especially the scene in the sugar cane plantation, the tea party at the governor’s mansion and the flogging of a young couple for mixed race flirting. But it descends into a muddle at the end.

There are 16 original songs of varying quality, the most memorable of these is the glorious and uplifting Spirit Eternal which closes the first half and is reprised at the end. The music is supplied by a band of four who play a variety of instruments and do it very well.

Overall, this is a promising piece of new writing which with a few nips and tucks and tighter direction could be great.

Penny Flood

Yarico continues until March 28 at London Theatre Workshop, 65 New Kings Road, London SW6
Closest Tube/National Rail: Fulham Broadway, Parsons Green, Imperial Wharf

Find out more and book tickets.

May 5, 2015