Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Yarico at the London Theatre Workshop
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Yarico at the London Theatre Workshop
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Yarico at the London Theatre Workshop
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-19233,single-format-standard,tribe-no-js,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.2.1,vc_responsive

28 Feb REVIEW: Yarico at the London Theatre Workshop

A musical about slavery…“Slavery, the Musical…”It doesn’t exactly sound like a great evening out, does it? And if ticker tape and jazz hands are what you’re after from musical theatre, then you’re right. But if it’s not, then perhaps you’re looking for something that provokes, tackles topics that actually matter, and eloquently tells a story. In which case, Yarico is a brilliant new musical that definitely deserves a look in.

The story of Yarico extends far beyond the closing curtain, beyond the lifetime of the eponymous woman, born in the 17th century West Indies, and still alive four centuries later, having evolved from woman to tale, to newspaper, to opera, and now to musical. It’s a story that’s made its mark; the 18th century opera fuelled public discussion into the morality of enslavement and the merits of the abolition, stoking the fire of a debate that ultimately lead to the end of this brutal and inhuman practice. Unknowingly throwing the wood on that fire is Yarico. Her character gives the human touch, whose loveliness, strength and vulnerability forced members of “civilised” society to challenge their own beliefs, as, for once, they took off the blinkers and saw a slave for what it really was. Who it really was. A person.

As Yarico grows up, the native Amerindian observes the “ghost men” who come, and take, and kill, and leave. But when she meets one of these “ghost men” as a young woman, a British trader called Robert Inkle, she holds him apart from his race and sees in him no crime against her people. So when he’s captured by her tribe, she saves his life and they embark on a relationship that noone wants to acknowledge. But her life is twisted and torn by the hands of the British settlers, as she’s dragged down a street she never intended to venture along…

As the leading lady, Liberty Buckland stands majestically in front of us, small but enigmatic in a lovely professional debut, opposite her trader love interest played by Alex Spinney. Convincing and well-pitched, he comes into his own in The Cave, the beautiful choral quality of his voice shining in the Barbados sun. Also notable is Charlotte Hamblin, just reprehensible as the ironically-named Lady Worthy, embodying the attitudes that claimed slaves as fashion accessories, and a moral compass that prioritised musical instruments above even the lives of her own sailors.

Drawing influence from cultures the world over, James McConnell’s music is given an earthy tone thanks to a glorious array of wooden percussion, imposing a sense of authenticity and creating a sound that’s unusual in musical theatre, but that’s perfect for Yarico. The large cast, particularly for such a small performance space, gives real impact to the ensemble pieces, and indeed it’s them that stand out in the memory – the frenzied The Dice Game and hauntingly lovely Spirit Eternal, both with beautiful – and very different – vocal arrangements.

The production does a wonderful job of depicting the Amerindians as fully functioning, welll-adjusted people – the British settlers, less so, as they’re charicatured and satirised. The effect is powerful, explaining and exploring, without pointing the finger of blame at anyone now alive, something that’s just as important as telling the story, and highlighting this murky period in colonial history.

As a show that’s all about the narrative and the music, there are some problems with the production; whilst the long passages about the exchange of language between Yarico and Inkle serve as a rather lovely device for their strengthening bond, the way it’s all depicted in English strangely makes it hard to follow and it feels quite needlessly protracted. There’s also a sense of frustration in the outcome of the story – though the ending is such a stunningly emotive piece of theatre that you’re halfway home before you realise that you never found out what actually happened.

It’s not up for dispute that the slave trade was a disgusting, barbaric industry trading blood for Silver and Gold, that dehumanised people, destroyed communities, killed, tortured and treated people worse than the animals they were kept with. Yarico unflinchingy puts that on the stage, giving a glimpse not only of the exploited tribesmen and woman, but also of a culture where the disgust at selling a person as cargo is utterly eclipsed by the outrage induced by holding a slave auction on a Sunday. What’s remarkable about the show it is how these messages are effectively staged, and yet the musical as a whole has enough warmth and humour to make it a show that you do enjoy watching.

Dates: 17th February – 14th March 2015
Venue: London Theatre Workshop
For tickets and information:

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here