“And so poor Yarico for her love, lost her liberty”
When a show openly acknowledges that it is a work-in-progress, you could be forgiven a certain degree of scepticism but on entering the London Theatre Workshop – perched above a Fulham pub – and seeing the size of their marimba, there can be no doubting the seriousness of the intent behind Yarico. A musical treatment of the opera Inkle and Yarico, itself based on the historical writings of Richard Ligon in A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, it’s a fascinating look at an interesting time in a difficult piece of history.
For though the slave trade forms the backdrop for the story, the opera came at a time when anti-slavery sentiment was on the rise and this sense of being on the cusp of the abolition era adds an thought-provoking texture to the production. Yarico, a young Amerindian woman with a yen for Shakespeare, has her life turned upside down when English ne’er-do-well Thomas Inkle washes up onshore. The only one able to communicate with him due to her studies, she pleads for his life against her hostile fellow islanders and they soon fall in love – so far so happy.
But Inkle’s a gambling addict and when he raises the stakes unforgivably high, it is Yarico who must pay the terrible price. It makes for a compelling tale and one of much potential. Much of that lies in the strength of the casting here in Emily Gray’s production – debutant Liberty Buckland has a gorgeously yearning quality to her voice as Yarico, Alex Spinney handles the tricky twists of Inkle’s character well, and the ensemble is liberally sprinkled with eye-catching cameos – Tori Allen-Martin and Jean-Luke Worrell’s respective friends stand out as does Charlotte Hamblin’s Lady.
The sense of it being a try-out does linger though, this being a space unsuited to the creative ambitions here. Zara Nunn’s band – with the aforementioned prominent percussion – sounds good but takes up too much room for the expressive physicality that Gray is trying to cultivate. James McConnel’s score has a considerable variety to its musical styles but consequently feels a little scattershot rather than keenly purposeful, so along with the overly expositional first half, it could do with a bit of a trim. But it’s not hard at all to see Yarico gaining further life and this is a chance for you to say you were here at the beginning.