★★ | Yarico, London Theatre Workshop

Yarico, an Amerindian beauty, is a young woman with a fierce, independent spirit. Bored of the monotonous routine of small island life, she longs to escape. When Inkle, the third son of a British merchant is shipwrecked on her island, he faces certain death at the hands of the islanders. Yarico intervenes and saves him from his fate, marking the beginning of a story that ultimately takes them to the island of Barbados where fate has a horrific surprise in store for her.

This new musical is based on a true story that fired the world’s imagination and contributed to a social movement against the slave trade. It’s a story of great historical significance that has been told from the 17th century onwards and one that caused a change in attitudes towards slavery.

Sadly, the musical doesn’t quite do justice to the power of the underlying story. Performing a musical in a small space has inherent difficulties and the staging of this piece doesn’t lend itself to an intimate theatre. The performers are bawdy, expressive and, at times, brash. In a larger venue this would work but in this case, it made the action seem like a pantomime at times. There are some very powerful musical numbers but equally, there are some incredibly weak ones and the dialogue is also very hit and miss, leaving a mixed bag of a show. The humour is often juvenile, dated and laden with double-entendres; failing to raise more than the occasional titter and a few tumbleweed moments on the night I saw the show.

Credit to the leads though: Newcomer Liberty Buckland as Yarico gives an exceptional performance in a vehicle way beneath her fine acting and vocal talents. The very able Tori Allen-Martin does her best to enliven a weak role as Yarico’s friend Nono and Alex Spinney shows fine vocal performances if slightly less polished acting skills at times.

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Ultimately this felt like a musical that had potential but failed to deliver. It didn’t seem to know what it was: an educational story, a love story or a bawdy romp? None of these elements quite worked and they certainly didn’t gel in a story that was at times rushed and unconvincing.

In spite of all of this, it’s worth going along just to see Liberty Buckland who is surely bound for great things.

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Yarico runs until the 14th of March 2015

Buy tickets here: http://londontheatreworkshop.co.uk/yarico/

About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He's usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.