From the Edinburgh Festival debut of Inkle & Yarico
The re-writing and updating of an 18th-century opera proved to be a harder task than might be supposed, and the show has gone through a complex evolutionary process, in which the storyline has been progressively sharpened; some characters removed and others strengthened; and the more superfluous subplots pruned or eliminated.
Three essential aspects of the adaptation are noteworthy. First, a decision was taken very early on to move Inkle’s initial, fateful voyage from the early-to-middle 17th century to around the year 1760. Inkle was thus turned into a contemporary of Wilberforce, enabling interweaving of the essentially private story of Inkle and Yarico with the public, political background of the anti-slavery crusade.
Second, the story has been extended well beyond the time frame of the traditional treatments of the theme (which always ended with Inkle’s sale - or marriage - of Yarico). In the new version, the sale of Yarico takes place at the end of Act I. Most of Act II is set 25 years later, and deals with the aftermath and consequences (private and public) of Inkle’s deed.
A full version of the musical, with a now-superseded book, was presented at the 1999 Holders Season in Barbados.
Since then, a number of ‘concert versions’ have been staged (i.e. abbreviated versions of the show, basically showcasing the main numbers with fairly rudimentary linking narrative): at the Lillian Bayliss Theatre in London; at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; and at Howard University, Washington D.C.
The last-named was of particular interest, as Howard University is the intellectual centre of the black community in America, and we were naturally eager to gauge the audience’s reaction to some of the ‘harder-hitting’ numbers that deal with racial and slavery issues. In fact, the feedback was almost overwhelmingly positive.
The latest production took place in London at the London Theatre Workshop in Fulham. Previous books were superseded by a new take on the story written by Carl Miller, directed by Emily Gray with music by James McConnel and lyrics by Paul Leigh and Carl Miller.
In this new version the emphasis is put unto Yarico’s experiences and her perspective, which feminizes the show and takes it out of the previous, male-centred context from which it originated. The entire plot oscillates around the love story between Inkle and Yarico and as a consequence references to the political and social landscape of that period are reduced, more subtle. Paul Vale the critic for The Stage said “For a 1st outing it's as near perfect a musical as you can get.”