It’s cold outside but inside Theatre 503 it’s a furnace. Set in St Lucy, a Caribbean island at the height of the slave trade, Muscovado is a domestic drama fraught with tensions that spill, with the milk and sugar, beyond the proscenium arch and into the consciousness of the audience.
The script by Matilda Ibini is an absolute scorcher; cutting out a section of humanity she painfully examines the dark repercussions of abhorrent slavery in the homes both of slave and master. In one moment she invokes laughter from her audience, the next utter revulsion that discomforts the previous humour. Her script is neat and expertly conceived. Starting deceptively lightly, Muscavado gets ever sourer act by act until it’s terrible, awful conclusion which leaves one reeling. Like the pressing of the sugar cane rendered by Kitty, this play wrings the sap out of the audience and leaves them tossed on a dry, searing beach of horror. It’s brave to attempt to convey a theme so overtly epic as the slave trade but Ibini manages it with skill and flair.
And the brilliant script is expertly delivered by a finely tuned cast of just six who give this story the devotion and attention it deserves, believably pursuing the story throughout. Clemmie Reynolds as Kitty is immensely watchable as the bored girlish wife of a brutish captain, using cruelty for entertainment and becoming maddened by her own self-inflicted isolation. She shows the irony of being a female mistress who is in some ways as much of a commodity, as much of a victim, as the people she ‘owns’ and plays dominion over. Asa played by Alexander Kiffin is heart wrenchingly agonising to watch as he is preyed over time and time again. His love, Elsie, a proud woman who flees her home is beautifully portrayed by Damilola K Fashola who brings heaps of humour and tragedy to the performance, especially in the sexual abuse that is a strong theme throughout the play. Willa, the girl slave who grows old and experienced far far too quickly is played gorgeously by Sophia Mackay who has an uncanny knack of showing the violence done to her in moments of truly flinching theatre. Adam Morris as Parson Lucy is viperous and sly with despicable traits that both entertain and horrify. The music and choreography has been thought out and devised with care and to great effect; much of this is provided onstage by James Reynolds who also provides a counterpoint of the outsider to the household.
This is a production which has been lovingly and delicately crafted. The direction is superb and no detail has been missed. From the beautiful set to the commitment of the actors this play is clearly a labour of love and a massive achievement. It proves yet again that sometimes fringe theatre can and does stand head and shoulders above many West End shows that could only hope to achieve the same emotions in their audiences. This show is overwhelmingly compelling. Well done Burnt Out Theatre!
Review by Annemarie Hiscott
Brilliant new play about slavery in 1800s Barbados staged at Theatre503 before touring UK cities with links to the transatlantic slave trade.
Muscovado is BurntOut Theatre’s new play about slavery in Nineteenth Century Barbados, written by emerging playwright Royal Court alumnus Matilda Ibini. A heady mix of sexual intrigue, piercing choral music and extreme racial tension, Muscovado provides an unflinching portrayal of life on a sugar plantation in 1808, accompanied by original music and atmospheric soundscape performed live by the cast.
London Performance dates and venues:
Press night: Wednesday 25th February at Theatre503, Battersea, 7.45pm
24 Feb-8 March at Theatre503, Battersea, 7.45pm
10 March- 15 March at Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham Common
14, 21, 28 June and 5 July at Kings Head Theatre, Islington. 3pm and 6pm
Full list of regional venues available at www.burntouttheatre.co.uk
Running time: 90 minutes plus interval.
Thursday 26th February 2015