The slave trade is probably one of the biggest blights in the history of this sceptered isle and is something that is very rarely mentioned in polite society. That has all changed now with London Theatre Workshop’s production of “Yarico” a powerfully emotional story of love and betrayal in the 17th Century.
The story opens on an island in the West Indies where two young native girls, Yarico (Liberty Buckland) and her best friend Nono (Tori Allen-Martin), are getting ready to go fishing yet again. Yarico is dissatisfied with the repetitiveness of island life (fishing, gutting, eating) and longs for a better life – like that described in a book of Shakespeare plays left behind by a visiting white man – especially something romantic such as the tale of Miranda in The Tempest. Following a storm, Yarico and Nono’s lives change as they find two men washed up on the shore. Thomas Inkle (Alex Spinney) and Cicero (Jean-Luke Worrell) are young, handsome and, as we quickly discover wastrels, who love gambling and have been thrown overboard from their ship by fellow passengers. None of this matters to Yarico and Nono who pretty instantly fall in love with the boys. Yarico even goes so far as to save Thomas from her village that want to kill the white man. Love blossoms for Thomas and Cicero as well and suddenly the island is a real paradise for the two couples. Back in the town of Barbados, news of the loss of Cicero and Thomas has come through and a rescue boat is successfully dispatched to retrieve them and, as it turns out, their new wives. As the boat takes them back to Barbados, Cicero and Nono retire to their cabin for the night and Thomas remains on deck where he explains a dice game the crew are playing to his wife. Feeling tired and bored of watching the game, Yarico goes off to bed herself. Now, at this point, every member of the audience was inwardly screaming at Thomas to go to bed with Yarico but no, he stayed for ‘one more round’. His luck is bad, in fact, diabolical and after losing his money, his jewels and even his clothing, Thomas, believing his luck must change, offers Yarico as his stake in the game. Needless to say, he loses and on arriving in port the next morning, Yarico is not taken by her husband to his home, but instead is taken to the market and sold as a slave to the Island’s Governor (Adam Vaughan) and his social climbing snob of a wife, Lady Worthy (Charlotte E Hamblin).
The second act opens with Yarico, now in the Governor’s household, being taken under the wing of Ma Cuffe (Melanie Marshall) who explains in great detail the reality of a slave’s life. Since she speaks English and knows Shakespeare, Lady Worthing takes a shine to Yarico – as much as the relationship between slave and mistress can be described as such – and she parades Yarico to her friends as an entertainment, much to the chagrin of Lady Worthy’s personal lady’s maid/slave Jessica (Keisha Amponsa Banson). The masters have an idyllic life, making huge amounts of money by the use of slave labour in the sugar fields and using female slaves for their ‘pleasure’ – indulging in a little bit of chocolate as they so quaintly put it – whenever they wish. But, underneath, tensions are rising, and the slaves are close to rebellion. All it needs is one little spark to light the tinderbox. Yarico, Nono, Cicero and every slave on the island get caught up in the plotting one way or another leading to a climax that is in equal measure horrific, shocking and immensely moving.
Going to be very honest here. When I first arrived at the theatre I really had my doubts about this show. Given what I had read of the story, I was expecting it to be pretty depressing with a distinct lack of jazz hands. As usual with pre-conceived ideas, I was completely wrong. The story is dark but at the same time uplifting.
Liberty Buckland’s performance is a real tour de force. She manages to convey everything that happens to Yarico – the good the bad and the devastating – with perfect gestures and a wonderful singing voice. I can see this young lady really going far soon. Not to be outdone, Alex Spinney is the perfect partner for Liberty. His portrayal of Thomas is sublime from the moment he is washed ashore, alone and terrified, through to the intensity of his love for Yarico (only slightly less strong than his love of gambling) to his devastation at the realisation of what he has done to the woman he loves. It would be so easy to despise Thomas because of his treatment of Yarico but he is a product of his times and a boy that today would be diagnosed as having a major addiction problem – remember “Yarico” is set in a time before the Gamble Aware campaign. To ensure that things don’t get too heavy, there is comedy, mainly provided by the pairing of Nono and Cicero. These two are the perfect comedy double act and there are wonderful scenes, particularly in the hammock, where the characters are talking to each other in their respective language (both actors speaking English of course) and neither understands the other to great comic effect.
“Yarico” is based on a true story, and the creative team of Carl Miller, James McConnel and Paul Leigh have written a superb and engrossing story with songs, such as the highly emotional ‘Give me my Name’ – a truly fantastic bit of singing by Michael Moulton – really adding to the narrative. Musical Director Zara Nunn and her team draw every piece of emotion out of the songs and Director Emily Gray uses every inch of the stage brilliantly to produce fantastic and emotionally draining scenes. The ending to Act I at the slave auction was amazingly moving as was the opening to Act II and the very realistically staged ‘flogging’ scene, all of which were delivered by a talented and highly skilled cast giving the audience a mesmerising and superbly professional taste of the darker side of English history mixed with hope, redemption and the prospect of a bright tomorrow.
Review by Terry Eastham
Yarico, an Amerindian beauty, is a young woman with great dreams and a fierce, independent spirit… When Inkle, the third son of a British merchant is shipwrecked on her island, he faces certain death at the hands of the islanders. In a courageous act, Yarico intervenes and saves him from his fate, marking the beginning of an extraordinary love story, which ultimately takes them to the island of Barbados. A story of great historical significance that has languished in time, once revived will remind us of the value of freedom.
London Theatre Workshop
65 New Kings Road
London, SW6 4SG
Box office: 01202 045659
Tuesday 17 February – Saturday 14 March
Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday matinee at 2.30pm
Tickets £25.00 £12.00 concessions
Friday 27th February 2015