What’s On Stage Review
In 1998 producer John Kidd commissioned a musical based on the 18th century opera Inkle and Yaricofor the annual Holders Opera Season held at his Barbadian plantation. Eighteen years and eight books later that story, partially set aboard a ship called The Providence, has completed its Atlantic crossing and moored at the London Theatre Workshop.
As far as story structures go, Yarico - first recorded by Richard Ligon in 1657 in his book A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados - is a rare one; boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy marries girl, boy sells girl into slavery.
Thrown overboard for gambling debts, Inkle (Alex Spinney) finds himself washed ashore on an unknown island. Threatened with certain death by the island's 'savages' his only hope lies with ambitious Amerindian Yarico (Liberty Buckland), whose love of Shakespeare means she's the only islander who understands the language of the 'ghostpeople'. The pair fall in love and plan to return to London until Inkle's gambling changes their course forever.
Yarico is by no means a finished product and the show's producers John and supermodel daughter Jodie Kidd have openly admitted this. At times the book is clunky and there are a few superfluous numbers, especially in the first half; the second is much slicker, songs including "Give Me My Name" and "Spirit Eternal" are rousing, well written compositions.
But this show's crowning glory is its tremendously talented cast. Spinney and Buckland, both graduates of the Royal Academy of Music, stomp through the show's score - which is a hodgepodge of genres from Calypso to Carribean Sea Shanty and even the distinctly Disneyesque "The Things We Carry With Us" - with aplomb. Standing out in the outstanding ensemble is Tori Allen-Martin, gifted with impeccable comic timing and a stage presence that makes it hard to take your eyes off her.
It's a heavily physical piece - hard to accomplish in such a small space made smaller by a four-piece band complete with massive marimba - laden with gestures and symbolism, exacted by director Emily Gray, whose experience as artistic director of mask and physical theatre company Trestle is put to good use.
Yarico may not be polished and the venue may be too small for this oceanic tale, but it's exciting and well worth catching to see raw talent performing a red raw tale of love, loyalty and language.
The Stage Review
The story of Inkle and Yarico and its anti-slave narrative originated in the 17th-century but became popular as an operetta years later with the rise of the abolition era. Now reimagined for the musical theatre stage, the drama of a Amerindian girl, Yarico, who is sold into slavery by the man whose life she saved, still captures the imagination.
Book and lyric writer Carl Miller has fashioned a witty and engaging adaptation that places Yarico centre stage with a stunning professional debut from Liberty Buckland. Themes of love, loss and the spirit eternal are reflected in James McConnel’s lush, evocative score and echoed here by Zara Nunn’s percussion-rich orchestration.
Buckland is joined by Alex Spinney in the difficult role of gambler Thomas Inkle, but Miller’s succinct book allows him a hero’s, if not a happy, ending. There are notable performances too from a tight-knit ensemble, especially Tori Allen-Martin as Nono and Jean-Luke Worrell as Cicero, offering well-timed comic relief.
Model and presenter Jodie Kidd, accompanied by father John, may have been making headlines as Yarico’s ingenue producer, but the real star here is the piece itself, which despite a relatively short gestation period has emerged in exceptionally good shape for a first outing.
The Grizzle Review
You may not think model Jodie Kidd and her father John to be typical theatre producers, but with family ties to Barbados they have chosen to bring the anti-slavery narrative of Yarico to the London stage. The story is a compelling one: a British merchant, Thomas Inkle, is shipwrecked on an island where he is saved by an Amerindian woman, Yarico – the only member of her tribe to speak English thanks to her interest in Shakespeare. The two fall in love, but fate draws them apart as Yarico is sold into slavery in Barbados. Loosely based on a factual account from the seventeenth century, this musical adaptation has been ten years in the making, but suffers from an inconsistent tone.
It is a show of two halves. The first is overly pacey, cramming in far too much plot for what is, essentially, exposition for the events of the second half. For a story on slavery, there is a light-hearted feel to the events that feels a little jarring. Some comedy is welcome, but this feels like a swashbuckler pitched somewhere between Pirates of the Carribean and Pocahontas. It certainly has an epic, cinematic feel but it’s too big for the limited space of the London Theatre Workshop, most of which is taken up by the extensive percussion of the band.
Alex Spinney stands out early on for his performance as Inkle, offering a beautifully lyrical tenor, and Tori Allen-Martin is hilarious as Yarico’s tribe friend Nono. Yet the girl meets boy forbidden love story feels too familiar and the often comical plot is presented with a Hollywood-esque sheen. What’s needed is a greater grasp of the local ethnicity in both the music and the acting; the varying languages of the characters are cleverly depicted despite the whole cast speaking English, but it lacks authenticity.
Thankfully that comes in the second half. Here the narrative is altogether more intimate, with the focus on Yarico and her plight to free her fellow slaves. There is some spirited music, such as “Give Me My Name” and “Spirit Eternal” that allow for some wonderfully rousing ensemble harmonies and choreography to match the percussive music. This also allows the performers to settle further into their roles. Liberty Buckland eventually stands strong as the tragic Yarico, whilst Keisha Amponsa Banson provides plenty of tension as her rival Jessica, and Suzanne Ahmet proves vocally solid in a variety of roles.
There remain some missteps, however. For every authentic musical number there’s a Disney-esque ballad that undermines the raw grit of the central love story, whilst the slightly racial connotations of the song “Chocolate” (in which the characters sing of their love for the drink) are a little uncomfortable to watch. And whilst there remains some comedy, the second half tries too hard to educate its (entirely white) audience: “The Same And Not The Same” is accompanied by a public whipping of a black and a white character that’s heavy-handed. In trying to ensure the central message isn’t lost amongst romantic slush, the show becomes somewhat preoccupied with preaching - to an extent this is a black story dumbed down for a white audience, just as Yarico is presented reciting Shakespeare for her British owners.
Yarico is far from a finished product – the producers have admitted as such. There is clearly some work to be done, but even in its current state this is a promising production with some glorious ensemble singing, a talented cast and a raw love story at its core.
London Theatre 1 Review - Terry Eastham
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.
British Theatre Guide Review…. Howard Loxton
The tale of Yarico, an Amerindian beauty who saved the life of an Englishman who married her then sold her into slavery, first appeared as a few lines in Richard Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes in 1657 and may or may not have any basis in fact.
However it was taken up and retold, most notably in George Colman and Samuel Arnold’s opera Inkle and Yarico. The story of love across colour helped change perceptions in the fight for the abolition of slavery.
For this new musical, Carl Miller creates his own version of the story. His Thomas Inkle is a likable fellow with a weakness for gambling who has been thrown off his ship for his debts.
His Yarico has already learned English from an earlier castaway with the help of a volume of Shakespeare. Her people want to execute Inkle to lift a curse they believe comes from the white ”Ghost Men” but she saves him and, married, he takes her to Barbados on the way to England.
But the gambling bug still possesses; he rashly puts his wife in the wager—and loses. She is sold into slavery on a Barbados plantation. Inkle returns from London with money to purchase her freedom but in the middle of a new situation things don’t go to plan.
This version both turns Inkle (Alex Spinney) into a more acceptable young hero and makes this essentially Yarico’s story—and who wouldn’t fall for Liberty Buckland’s lovely Yarico, making a delightful professional debut. Thomas is given a well-dressed black friend called Cicero (Jean-Luke Worrell), with his trunk-full of clothes and white wigs thrown in the sea after him, who pairs up with Nono (Tori Allen-Martin), from Yarico’s village.
The story is also opened up in other ways, such as the indentured Irishman (Michael Mahoney) on the Barbados plantation, lashed with his black lover Jessica (Keisha Amponsa Banson) when their love is discovered by Suzanne Ahmet’s overseer and plantation owner Governor Worthy (Adam Vaughan).
Charlotte E Hamblin is the Governor’s haughty lady, showing off her slave’s knowledge of Shakespeare, while Melanie Marshall and Michael Moulton have a strong presence as slaves planning rebellion and a dash for freedom.
The hard-working cast play multiple roles and they make a wonderful sound whether singing singly or in chorus. The music is a mixture of genres with snatch of harpsichord continuo as well as touches of calypso and shanty but marked especially by its scoring for tuned drums, keyboards, violin and woodwind—and marimba. As well as strong tunes, composer James McConnell produces an exciting sound that enlivens the whole production.
With the band and their instruments occupying quite a lot of the limited performance space, director Emily Gray and choreographer Jeanefer Jean-Charles do a remarkable job in handling scenes that often involve the whole company. Designer Sarah Beaton sets it simply and starkly using lots of bamboo, which emphasises the entrapment of slave life but adds strong costume colours to brighten the picture.
Although ultimately tragic, there is romance at the heart of the story and humour, including a jokey little number about chocolate that satirises white Barbadian pretensions, though it has little to do with the story.
The fate of some characters is left unclear as the final scenes move quickly on to an upbeat closing chorus, the script could still do with some polishing, but this is a show full of energy and sounds that outweigh any shortcomings.
Ginger Hibiscus Review
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.
Remote Goat Review - Aline Wates
The story of Yarico was first recorded in 1657 when it was featured in a factual book by Richard Ligon ‘The True and Exact History of Barbados’ An opera ‘Inkle and Yarico’ by Samuel Arnold and George Coleman in 1787 thrilled Europe and the Americas bringing to the fore the ethics of forced labour. After 200 years of virtual obscurity, John and Jodie Kidd have brought the story back into our attention with this brand new musical play having its premier in Ray Rackham’s charming boutique theatre in Fulham.
Yarico is a Native American girl of enormous spirit and intelligence who is bored with her life on the small Island in the Antilles – and she dreams of the land where life is exciting and not just a daily round of fishing, cooking and eating. She tells the Island natives stories from the book of Shakespeare left behind by some of the Ghost (white) People who came to visit, betraying their hosts by torturing and killing many of the Islanders. She has learned English from the book though we are not told how she has learned to speak it, because when two Englishmen Tom and Cicero are shipwrecked on the Island Yarico is able to communicate with them and save them from the vengeful wrath of the indigenous population. She marries Thomas and she and her friend Nono join them when they are rescued by an English ship bound for Barbados.
However in Barbados things go wrong and we are in the middle of a sugar plantation where the chocolate eating and tea drinking white people keep their slaves in inhuman bondage ‘The things we carry with us’ is one of the great songs delivered by the very wonderful Melanie Marshall’ All the cast are excellent singers, but this lady is outstanding. Yarico is played by the very lovely Liberty Buckland and her husband Tom is Alex Spinney. They handle the drama and passion and sing together with perfect attention to both tunes and lyrics. People who witness a lot of musicals will sympathise and understand the rarity of this.
It is a totally engrossing production and in addition to the romance and passion of the story there are many very funny vignettes -occasionally set to music and beautifully performed by Tori Allen-Martin as Nono and Jean-Luke Worrell as Cicero. Neither of these characters can understand a word of what the other is saying but this does not get in the way of their happy marriage. Another romance is between Keisha Amponsa Banson as Jessica the African indoor slave to the governor’s lady and Michael Mahoney as Frank her Irish lover.
What is especially fascinating about this cast is that as the ensemble, they all play Islanders, slaves and the ghost people without regard to colour. Inevitably in a show on this subject, the slaves are noble and wonderful and the white folks silly and cruel. Nevertheless I have never been moved so much by a musical and the themes of slavery and diversity of race, gender and culture are powerfully expressed.
Broadway World Review - Gary Naylor
Yarico dreams of escape from her humdrum village life on a remote Caribbean island; her friend Nono dreams of boys. When two shipwrecked Englishmen turn up on the shore, they see that their lives might change forever. And they do - but not in the way that they had imagined.
Yarico (continuing at the London Theatre Workshop until 28 March) is based on a true story, one that has been adapted many times, its echoes of Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest in a time of slavery, proving irresistible as both entertainment and instruction. So Carl Miller (book and lyrics), James McConnnel (music), Paul Leigh (lyrics) and Emily Gray (director) had to create something special to make this version stand out from the crowd - and they did..
After a bit of exposition, with one of the best and most innovative bands I've ever heard on the fringe already showing their chops, the show takes off when the lovers meet. Sure, it's boy-meets-girl stuff, but the set's hanging sugar canes act as both a place to hide and a reminder that they are the source of both the sweetness that had (and has) Westerners addicted and the weapons that would beat those forced, on the end of a musket, to produce it.
But it's the songs that will make this production one of the highlights of my year. The second act opener, "Give Me My Name", is heartrending and powerful, a succinct reminder that slavery crushed its victims psychologically as much as physically. "Chocolate" - an exposition of the hypocrisies of the plantation owners - has more than a touch of Lionel Bart about it and there are echoes of Gilbert and Sullivan's more biting satire elsewhere. Outside the classic musicals, I'm seldom tempted to buy a soundtrack album, but I would definitely buy one for this show (were it available!)
There's much to admire in the performances too (reviewing this production much deeper into its run than is usually the case for a Press Night made me think how actors relax into the roles and whether some reviewers might best delay their visits for a second wave of publicity). There's not a weak link in the cast of eleven, with Melanie Marshall and Tori Allen Martin catching the eye and Charlotte E Hamblin channeling the plantation owner's wife in Django Unchained to gruesome comic effect. As Yarico, Liberty Buckland gives a stellar performance, carrying the emotional burden of the dreadful fate while singing in the voice of a West End lead. With a magnetic stage presence and looks that must be a lighting director's dream, this is a stage debut that can catapult Buckland to stardom - see and hear her up close now while you still can!
Trestle Theatre do a lot of work in education and one can easily see how this show could be adapted for schools, but it would be a shame if this production were to disappear at the end of its run. Marketed cleverly, there's plenty enough here to tour medium-sized venues in the UK and (one might hope) the USA and beyond. Supermodel Jodie Kidd's debut as producer has delivered a sparkling new musical and a sensational new star.