Pros: Complex characters, beautiful singing and a captivating plot.
Cons: Some of the songs are not up to the standard of the rest of the production.
Yarico tells the story of a young native Amerindian woman who saves the life of an Englishman when he is shipwrecked on her island. The two fall in love and she leaves her life, tribe and village to marry him, only to be sold by him into a life of slavery on a sugar plantation. It is a captivating story and this production peoples it with rich, believable characters, telling the story with an impressive balance of comedy and tragedy. The start of the show is particularly funny, which emphasises the pain, betrayal and suffering that come later.
One of the things I liked most about Yarico was the depth of the many characters shown. The depiction of both the native fisherpeople at the start and the plantation slaves later in the show avoid cliché and simplification. Instead, each group is a collection of interesting and original characters. The fisherpeople are savvy, considering Englishmen to be savages and barbarians. Their humour and life is modern and relatable – very different to the all-too-common depiction of native peoples as savages whose only good points are a vague kind of spiritualism and a mystic understanding of nature. The slaves on the sugar plantation are real people too, not just products of their slavery. You can really see and understand how each person has adapted differently to the huge strain of the horrific situation they are in. Using the same actors to play the slaves, tribespeople and sailors emphasises their shared underlying humanity, despite some characters refusing to acknowledge this.
Liberty Buckland, playing the central character Yarico, is fantastic. Her Yarico is strong and proud yet easy to sympathise and identify with. The scene in which she is sold at auction is harrowing and powerful. Yarico’s best friend Nono is played by Tori Allen-Martin with spirit and humour. Charlotte E. Hamblin as the plantation owner’s snobbish wife Lady Worthy is also brilliant. Beneath her imperious commands, you can sometimes glimpse a highly-strung, guilty nervousness, adding depth to even the cut-out villains of the piece. On the other hand, I felt that Tomas Inkle, Yarico’s lover, is disappointingly flat; his character is based around his gambling habit and has little more to flesh it out.
As a play, Yarico is brilliant. As a musical, I felt it was sometimes lacking. The cast have great singing voices, and the on-stage musicians do a fantastic job, but the songs themselves are a bit hit-and-miss. Three of the musical pieces stand out in my mind as strong, memorable and rousing, but the majority of the others I found lacking in power. Luckily, Buckland’s sweet, strong voice helps her carry off those songs that would be lacklustre otherwise. On the other hand, I felt that the cast really shone in the show’s best songs. One of the most enjoyable moments comes when a group of slaves steal a moment to themselves and start dancing, sharing their cultures and traditions with each other. The song they sing as they dance, Take a Step, is fun and sensuous.
The Eel Brook pub is a great venue; downstairs has a country pub atmosphere with some hipster highlights while the performance space upstairs makes good use of the limited space available. It does however get very hot and the noise from outside intrudes sometimes, a problem that was particularly bad during the performance I attended. If this had happened during a weaker show, it might have ruined the experience, but for most of the time Yarico was so absorbing that I hardly noticed.
Author: Carl Miller
Director: Emily Gray
Musical Director: Zara Nunn
Choreographer: Jeanefer Jean-Charles
Producer: London Theatre Workshop
Box Office: 01202 045659
Booking Link: http://londontheatreworkshop.co.uk/yarico/
Booking Until: 14 March 2015