lyrics by Carl Miller and Paul Leigh music by Carl Miller and James McConnel
London Theatre Workshop Ell Brook Pub 65 New Kings Road SW6 4SG To 14 March 2015.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 01202 045659.
Review: William Russell 28 February.
Rum goings on in Barbados.
This musical is very much a work in progress and, with the best will in the world, a little more work might have been done before it was allowed on stage. The book in particular badly needs looking at.
The show has an interesting enough tale to recount: how Yarico, a young Amerindian, ended-up a slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados some time in the 17th century and was involved in the uprisings that were to follow.
But as put together here – the story has been used by others – it lacks dramatic shape. Yarico’s story, which first surfaced in 1657, went on to play a role in the antislavery movements of the 18th century, but this version – aimed at schools and young people – is unlikely to enlighten them in any meaningful way about the past or the evils of slavery, and what it apparently has to say about gender equality escaped me entirely.
The performances are all good, with Liberty Buckland making a feisty, attractive heroine, and Alek Spinney as Thomas Inkle, her sugar-trader, gambler husband – he lost her in a dice game which led to her ending a slave – a most persuasive rotter.
The score is attractive, the set – black walls and shards of sugar-cane – impressive, and the cast play multiple roles effectively. But it is not until the second act with a song called ‘Chocolate’, which hymns all the uses to which White folk put things coloured brown, that the show takes fire.
It is followed by ‘The Things We Carry With Us’, beautifully rendered by Melanie Marshall as an elderly plantation hand, which conveys the anti-slavery message perfectly and powerfully. The show’s heart is in the right place, but that is not enough.
More thought, a lot of restructuring, and a uniformity of tone are needed. Presenting the slave-owning Governor Worthy and his wife as fugitives from a Blackadder episode, for instance, is one folly, and playing Yarico and Thomas Inkle’s companions for laughs is another.
This is a very good musical in the making, but there is a lot of making still to do.