Set in 1808, new play Muscovado written by Matilda Ibini, bares witness to the inhumane treatment experienced by slaves working on sugar plantations in 19th Century Barbados. Muscovado, a BurntOut Theatre production, is currently touring the UK until August and played two nights on the Fruit stage in Hull, at the end of March.
The broad story is a familiar one, highlighting and making comment about what a bad thing it is, to treat another human being so. I read in the programme that the story is inspired by Clemmie and James’ family history. A case in point: the Unknown Fellow, a white man, is brought on early in the piece, to rudely force the black slave girl: thus bending her to his will. That was all to be expected.
Central to Muscovado is the relationship, almost illicit interaction, between Miss Kitty – played by Clemmie Reynolds – and her daughter-like slave girl Willa – played by Sophia Mackay. Miss Kitty is rapidly losing her grip, and seizing his chance the increasingly warped figure of Parson Lucy – played by Adam Morris – becomes an ever present visitor at the house.
A deviant church can justify any behaviour, any action. It is written, therefore it is so. These rigid colonialist ideas have The Parson denouncing the slaves as being nothing but animals and that they should be seen, and treated, as such. Particularly distasteful is the language he uses, an insult to our modern day politically correct sensibilities.
The ones who are actually behaving like animals are the white folk, constantly acting on base desires, pack mentality: acting with no compassion, no humanity.
A troubled love story in the slaves quarters raises the stakes between Asa the ever faithful manservant – played by Alexander Kiffin – and the forthright Elsie played by Damilola K Fashola.
Then comes a particular scene that underlined all for me. This scene is genuinely harrowing as a line previously toyed with, is forever drawn in the golden sugar. The sugar cane metaphors are present, but subtle enough to require a little afterthought.
The set is simple, a table, a bench an endless supply of tea from a china tea set. The small cast remain on stage throughout, so that they may add their voices to the considerable throng during the ensemble singing and other soundscape components.
The musical score felt authentic and contained candlelit moments of soaring chorus that captivated the audience. The harmonies were well constructed, the deeper voices perfect counterpoint, to the higher soprano voices. The musicianship throughout was first class, particularly from James Reynolds, his vocal tone was a joy to listen to.
The acting from the cast was good, particularly from Sophia, Clemmie and Alexander. The accents were not always easy to follow and at times, did get in the way of the smooth delivery of the dialogue.
Muscovado by BurntOut Theatre is one of those plays that lingers in the memory, it’s not as clear cut as at first you might think, the heady mix of guilt, sexual jealousy, hysteria and claustrophobia becomes all consuming. Well worth a look.