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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Theatre503 and BurntOut Theatre present

Muscovado

 

Photo courtesy of Hannah Palmer

 

by Matilda Ibini

Directors: Clemmie Reynolds and Sophie de Vries

Musical Director and Original Music: James Reynolds

Dramaturgy: Helena Bell

Set Design: Sophia Simensky

Costume and Props: Juliet Leigh

Lighting Designer and Operator: Gregory Jordan

 

Theatre 503

 

24 February – 7 March (then on tour)

 

 

 

A set busy with hard and soft furnishings, props and plants perfectly reflects the stifling, oppressive atmosphere of this stunning play by Matilda Ibini. Even as the lights come up sweat drips from the characters, the buzzing and clicking of insects already punctuates infrequent silences. There is no gentle introduction and there is no respite as the play progresses. Muscovado is a pressure-cooker of familial, sexual and professional relations between the owners of a Barbadian plantation and the slaves that work for them.

Muscovado was commissioned by BurntOut Theatre following the discovery of archives relating to Artistic Director Clemmie Reynolds’ family, who lived in Barbados in the 1800s. The script is uncompromisingly direct but far from devoid of both humour and lyricism; this seems quite a feat given the often harrowing subject-matter. Music is a constant device, seamlessly woven through the drama. James Reynolds is standout in this regard, his exceptionally melodic voice further solemnising the most moving scenes and drumming and guitar playing livening the most playful.

 

Photo courtesy of Hannah Palmer

 

A dynamic, unified six-strong ensemble play their own roles flawlessly while also managing to make the characters that are only spoken of as present as they are themselves. The Captain, owner of the plantation, and everyone’s tormenter, is rendered as cruel and slovenly as any actor playing him on stage could portray. An unseen house-servant, Genevieve, is also given life through clever dialogue and decisive acting. The Captain’s long-suffering spouse Kitty (Clemmie Reynolds) is a manic character, whose compulsive nature thrives in her oppressive surroundings. Intimacy swells and ebbs between childless Kitty and her servant-girl Willa (Sophia MacKay). Tactile affection and occasional well-meaning advice are juxtaposed with remarkable cruelty. Kitty is so sure of her ignorant assertions that she heaps them on Willa like fuel on a fire; her emotional and physical blows are as sure as nightfall.

The island’s clerical representative, Parson Lucy (Adam Morris), is unsettlingly convincing as an abhorrent, self-righteous villain who uses his vocation as a front for malevolence and greed.

Willa (Sophia Mackay) is ostensibly prim and eager to please but in reality is of rebellious temperament, harbouring an ambition to become a buccaneer. Asa (Alexander Kiffin) is the most intimate and longest serving member of the house-staff.  Initially he seems difficult to warm to but as the play progresses he softens into one of the most tender characters, bursting with good intentions and genuine feeling. The heartiest of these feelings are reserved for his beloved, Elsie (Damilola K Fashola), who contributes some of the best depictions of utter resignedness that I have ever seen on stage.

All the characters display constant discomfort, aching, stretching, sweating, worrying and arguing. Kitty, supposedly living the good life is in reality, the most stifled of all the characters, mentally repressed to the verge of madness. The play is a hotbed of misogyny, racism and bigotry but any attempt to look away for reprieve is scuppered by the next arresting scene. Costuming by Juliet Leigh is measured and effective. Willa is a particularly consuming subject where costumes are concerned. She is dressed up for a family portrait which must give the appearance of respectability, while all manner of lurid events are taking place behind the scenes.

The theme of absent mothers is a prevalent one, whether dead or estranged; they have all left their mark, particularly on the female characters. Parson Lucy’s scathing attitude towards Kitty’s perceived barrenness and perverse enthusiasm at Willa’s ‘becoming a woman’ add to the intrinsic value that the play places on child-bearing. In raging conflict with this, however, is the blasé attitude with which Kitty suggests that Asa facilitate a production line of ‘fresh’ slaves. Ibini’s script is brimming with these kinds of conflicts and comparisons, ensuring that nobody will imperviously walk away from this play.

This searing production of Muscovado is such a blazing success because of that rare, sought-after thing – absolute cohesion. There’s not one element of the production letting another down. Everything from the set to the script, from the lighting to the sound hangs in striking harmony, while a team of singularly passionate actors give their everything to tell a story which is aching for an audience.

Photo courtesy of Hannah Palmer
 
Theatre 503, The Latchmere
 503 Battersea Park Road
London SW11 3BW
http://theatre503.com/
£12/£10 concessions
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
@BurntOutTheatre #Muscovadoplay

Link to trailer: http://youtu.be/HnRXUKyuRqA

London Performance dates and venues: 
24 Feb-8 March at Theatre503, Battersea, 7.45pm
10 March- 15 March at Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham Common
14, 21, 28 June and 5 July at Kings Head Theatre, Islington. 3pm and 6pm
Tickets: £5-£19

Muscovado will be touring to 15 cities around the UK with links to the transatlantic slave trade, including Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton and Hull; theatres and site-specific venues to include Liverpool International Slavery Museum, Kings Head Islington, Brighton Fringe Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Full list of regional venues available at www.burntouttheatre.co.uk

 

 

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