BWW Reviews: YARICO, London Theatre Workshop, March 6 2015

BWW Reviews: YARICO, London Theatre Workshop, March 6 2015

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.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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