|"Slavery on a Barbados Plantation"|
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 25/02/15
In spite of recent exposure of the cruelty of plantation slavery in, for example, the film "12 Years A Slave" Mathilda Ibini’s new play Muscovado produced by the Burnt out Theatre Company has the power to shock. The play is set on a Barbados sugar plantation in 1808 and the action revolves around the interaction of the family of the plantation owner and their domestic slaves.
The directors Clemmie Reynolds and Sofie du Vries use the whole of Theatre 503’s compact playing area to depict an internal setting in the plantation house. Scenery is kept to a minimum but a range of props and set dressing appropriate to the era and setting were distributed around the acting area. The six cast members remained on stage and in view almost throughout the production sitting to the side of the acting area when not involved in the action. A distinctive feature of the production was the use of original music composed and played by James Reynolds. With a sacred or folk theme and sung in pleasant harmonies by the cast it made a major contribution to building up the atmosphere of piece.
The young cast exhibited some very fine performances. Alexander Kiffin and Demilola K Fashola gave subtle and naturalistic performances as the slaves and Sophia Mackay demonstrated a wide range of emotions as Willa the young domestic slave and favourite of her mistress, even though it was a little difficult to believe that she was 12 years old. The part of Kitty, wife of the plantation owner, is a tour de force played by Clemmie Reynolds. She represents the power and privilege of the white slave owning class while being herself a slave to the domineering Captain Fairbranch whose unseen malevolent presence permeates the whole play. The cleric Parson Lucy is one of the most unpleasant characters I have ever seen on stage. His piety was a thinly veiled cover for self interest and manipulation and out of his mouth came the most outrageous justifications for racial stereotypes. Presenting such a caricature of white supremacy is difficult to a modern audience and I felt that Adam Morris in the role could be more effective had his physicality matched the evil of his dialogue.
The play evoked the atmosphere of early colonial life in Barbados with excellent costumes and the cast soaked in sweat and with sound effects of buzzing mosquitoes. The action revolves around the interaction of the characters and demonstrated how the evil of slavery infuses and affects everyone and everything to which it comes in contact. There are no heroes in this play only victims. While it was compelling theatre I felt it could have benefited from a stronger narrative.
It is playing at Theatre 503 until 7 March and thereafter at The Bread and Roses with the intention of a national tour thereafter. Well worth catching but not for the squeamish.
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